At County Spelling Bee, LCE 6th Grader is I-n-v-i-n-c-i-b-l-e

La Cañada Elementary School Principal Emily Blaney made it a point to tell students participating in Spelling Bees on her campus and later at the district office that while most of them would be knocked out, they could find consolation knowing they’d never forget how to spell the word on which they were eliminated.
She’s proof. Ceaselessly got her once. But never again.
LCE 6th-grader Gabriel Gottheim didn’t have to miss sabbatical or demarcate or memorabilia for those words to earn a permanent place in his memory bank.
Those are the final three words that he spelled correctly — “sabbatical” to stave off elimination and the final two for the win — to become the third La Cañada Unified School District student to win the Los Angeles County Spelling Bee in the 11-year history of event. Palm Crest Elementary’s Solenn Matuska won in 2012 and Paradise Canyon’s Zhi He Low was a winner in both 2006 and 2007.
“It’s just great for the district,” said Blaney, the first-year principal at LCE, which has its first county spelling champion in Gottheim. “He’s a good representative.”
Gottheim — who also finished first at the third annual district-wide Mathzilla competition last month — isn’t going to gloat, though. During a conversation Monday, he preferred to keep the couple-feet-tall first-place trophy under wraps and insisted that he’s “not a complete spelling nerd without a life.”
Sure, Josh Gottheim spends 10 or 15 minutes a day after dinner quizzing his son, but the Gottheims are not out to memorize the dictionary, which they figure is what it would take to overcome the sheer element of chance that exists in any competitive spelling event.
For practice, Josh Gotthim selects words from a dictionary that he figures Gabriel doesn’t know but aren’t so obscure that they’d almost surely not be floated at the California State Elementary School Spelling Bee Championship. At that event, scheduled for April 23 in Stockton, about 80 4th- through 6th-graders will battle to become the state’s best speller.
The forthcoming contest is not all-consuming, Gabriel Gottheim insisted, saying, “I have a life.” He’s baseball player, a video game enthusiast and a Boy Scout. He likes science most.
His spelling chops? Well, maybe that’s part natural and part practice. He isn’t a voracious reader necessarily, but he has read many different types of material, from science texts to “Gulliver’s Travels” — a title he was permitted to tackle thanks to LCE’s policy of letting students select their own texts once or twice a year.
“Contrary to popular conception that it’s a children’s book,” Josh Gottheim said, “It’s quite antiquated and difficult and convoluted.”
“But I really don’t like reading a book and having to keep a dictionary next to me so I can look up a word every 20 seconds,” Gabriel Gottheim said.
Even so, that experience and others like it proved to be optimal preparation for taking on 25 of the county’s best young spellers last week in Downey. Over the course of 80 minutes of nerve-racking spelling, Gottheim edged runner-up Ryan Yan, a 4th-grader from Coolidge Elementary School of San Gabriel Unified. Both boys earned a berth at the state competition.
Gottheim survived when he figured out how to spell sabbatical, despite never having before seen the word: He asked for a definition, he said, and reasoned that it stemmed from the word “Sabbath,” which had two Bs, so … s-a-b-b-a-t-i-c-a-l. The spell master paused for a beat (a long, tense beat) before telling him he was correct.
Then Yan was asked to spell demarcate. After asking for the definition, for it to be used in a sentence, if he was pronouncing it correctly, again for a definition and whether he was, indeed, pronouncing it correctly, he guessed, “d-e-m-a-r-k-a-t-e.”
He missed it, Gottheim got it right, and, with victory one word away, followed up by correctly spelling out m-e-m-o-r-a-b-i-l-i-a, a word he knew.
Blaney isn’t sure that the district Spelling Bee that pitted 16 of LCUSD’s best young spellers against each other in January wasn’t more difficult. Gottheim took the win there by correctly spelling testimonial and acrylic.
“Those kids were spelling words that we in the audience were looking at each other going, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” Blaney said. “I consider myself a pretty good speller, but I would not have been able to spell some of those words.”
Gottheim said he feels prepared for the state stage. He’ll be joined in Stockton by his parents and his twin siblings, Daniel and Luisa, kindergartners at LCE who’ll be taking their first airplane trip to see their big brother spell it out.
“It’s funny, in a way — why are all these people voluntarily sitting in a room to experience this kind of anguish?” said Josh Gottheim, who said the competitors heard from an inspirational speaker at the county competition, who told the kids they’d all leave with something more than a haunting, lifelong knowledge of how to spell one particular word.
“He explained, ‘Unless you face the challenge, you will never achieve something.’ And so, obviously, all the kids who were here, they face a number of rounds of challenges and they show character through persevering,” Josh Gottheim said. “And so I’m proud of [Gabriel] for that, as much as anything.”

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