BOUNTIFUL — Matthew Perry knew that one mistake could cost him the championship, but that wasn’t really on his mind.
Instead, he kept thinking about various ways letters could come together to spell words.
He was, after all, engaged in a spelling bee.
And after correctly spelling the word “stiction” — which is short for static friction and means the force required to cause one body in contact with another to begin to move — Perry eventually won that spelling bee.
“I was trying to think of different ways to spell and what seemed like the best way,” Perry said. “I tried to think what made the most sense.
“I would always think, ‘I hope that I don’t get out on this word.’ ” he said.
Perry, 13, a seventh-grader at Millcreek Junior High School in Bountiful, recently won a regional spelling bee competition. He is now preparing to go to Washington, D.C. to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The nationwide competition is scheduled for May 29 to June 4.
Though he likes to spend his time playing the string base in the orchestra, Perry admitted he has always been good at spelling.
“I thought I was good enough at it, that I could do a spelling bee,” he said.
This is Perry’s third appearance in the spelling bee. Last year, he was one of the final 30.
His mother, Heidi Perry, said she was surprised at her son’s success. In previous years, she explained, he had spent time studying prior to the competition. This year, he didn’t.
“This is the first year he didn’t study for it,” she said. “I expected him to be done quickly, but he wasn’t. He kept going.”
The only studying he did was to look at a few words immediately before the competition began.
But his lack of study time didn’t impact his competition. This year, he made it through to the seventh round with three others.
“I’m so proud of him,” his mother said.
This year’s competition started with 58 students, but was slowly whittled down to the remaining three.
“It was really exciting,” Perry said. “I didn’t think that I would ever be able to do it. I just didn’t expect that I could win.”
As more and more students were eliminated, he started feeling the pressure. One wrong word could mean his participation would end.
“More people kept getting eliminated as they spelled words wrong,” he said. “You could get a word wrong, but only if all the others in your round got one wrong, too.”
Once a speller got their word right, he or she went to the championship word to take the prize. In the last round, where there were three competitors, Perry spelled his word right as well as the championship word.
For his prize, he won a trip to Washington D.C. for the championship bee, a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, an online subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica and two $20 gift certificates from Amazon.com.
Principal Karyn Bertelsen said her school usually sends students to compete in the spelling bee, but believes Perry is the first from Millcreek to go on to the national competition.
“He is terrific,” she said. “He is just a wonderful young man. He gives his all to whatever he is in at school.”
Bertelsen added that the experience is an exceptional one for a young person to have.
Now, as the national competition approaches, Perry said, he might try to hit the dictionary for a little study time to help him compete in the mandatory pre-test and hopefully the competition if he does well.