Eleven-year-old Kyle Harney doesn’t do spell check.

He’s not big on Japanese anime or dictionaries, either.

And you won’t often find him studying.

In fact, given the chance, Kyle would rather groove on some good fantasy books — say, the latest Harry Potter or an old Jules Vern adventure — maybe a video game, or even a little television.

But don’t lock horns with him in a spelling bee.

Because this sixth-grader from Southgate/Rippetoe Elementary school is ranked among the top 20 spellers in the state. And this year, he’s set his sights on the top spot.

Even though he’s not tall enough to shave.

Fresh off championship wins at his elementary school and the regional, district-wide spelling contest, Kyle attributes his success to a photographic memory and because he “sees words” in his head. “The words are my mind,” he says. “And if I can’t see them, then I sound it out.”

An avid reader, he absorbs high school and college level words like some kids chomp popcorn and recite song lyrics. “Yeah, I know how to spell a lot of hard words. But I really don’t know how to elaborate on that.”


It’s pretty obvious he’s not your typical 11-year-old; heck most boys his age have never even heard the word “elaborate.”

Standing a little more than four feet tall, with a round, smiling face and large brown eyes, Kyle scrunches his face when he talks. His eyes twinkle and he seems to always be moving.

He’s more interested in having fun and laughing than worrying about whether or not he’ll be the state’s champion speller in the 5th through 8th grade category come March 21. “The weirdest thing is I normally don’t practice for these things,” he said. “I just get up there and hope it will be easy.”

And though he knows the competition is tough, he still likes the ‘game.’

“It’s fun,” he adds. “I do it (spelling bees) because I want to.”

Of course, he’s not a perfect speller.

Asked to spell ‘silhouette’ he scratches his head, squints his eyes and starts slowly, “S-i-l-l...”

At that point he knows he's wrong.

“It’s like last year...the word that I lost at state was calefactory; it had an unusual spelling.”

For the record: A calefactory — which comes from the Medieval Latin word, ‘calefactorium,’ — is a monastery room warmed and used as a sitting room.

“Yeah, I know what it means now,” he said. “And I know how to spell it.”

But even with the occasional stumbles, Kyle Harney is real good at what he does.

“When he was little I read to him all the time,” says his mother, Sandra. “He was reading on his own when he was about three-and-a-half.”

And he’s kept at it.

“At his school they have trouble finding books for him at his reading level,” he mom adds. “He’s read most of them.”

He’s also worked his way through a good portion of family library, and has even turned the pages a few of the classics. “I tried to read ‘Moby Dick,’” he said, chuckling. “But I couldn’t get past the first page. Melville’s boring.”

Instead, Kyle’s turned his attention to “The Lord of the Rings.” “I’m not very far through it. It’s tough.”

It’s that type of reading — even if his study habits aren’t the most regular — plus his ‘really good’ memory, that make Kyle a force to contend with on the spelling bee circuit.

“I guess being a good speller comes naturally,” he said. “This year in the last few rounds of regionals it was just me and some eighth graders; and I kicked the eighth graders’ butts.”

To make his point, he drums his hands on the table and smiles. “I’m the guy they want to beat. If you want to get anything done, beat me.”

Brimming with confidence, and blessed with an easy going mom, Kyle says he’s ready for the state finals, March 21 — even without all the review. “I know I’m a good speller,” he said.

But he’s also pragmatic.

Though he doesn’t plan on loosing, he is prepared if that happens. “If I don’t place, then I don’t place.”

“He’s still pretty young to get that worried about it,” his mom adds. “I’ve asked him about losing and he’s okay if that happens.”

But losing isn’t really on his agenda.

“I know I’m going to kick their butts,” he says.

And even though he probably won’t read the dictionary, or crack open the large reference books he owns, Kyle says he’ll will try and get prepared for the March contest.

“I don’t read the dictionary to know how to spell the word,” he says. “The only reason I keep a dictionary is so I know what the word means.”

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