ST JAMES, Jamaica - When then seven-year-old Portland Spelling Bee contender Dayton Jennings came up short at the championship in Kingston last year, he made a promise that “I will be back” to take the coveted national title.
He has taken the first step in making good on his promise, outlasting 21 other contestants to again emerge Portland champion at the parish finals held in Port Antonio on September 26.
“I was always confident,” the now eight-year-old stated. “I am very happy, especially having my mom and grandmother in the audience watching,” he said.
The resident of Nonsuch and student of Nonsuch Primary said he is also happy that fellow community member and schoolmate, 10-year-old Sasheka Mitchell, placed fourth in the competition.
Mom, Simone Everett, noted that the fact that her son’s preparation was not as extensive as last year, made her a little nervous as to how well he would perform.
She said, however, that her confidence grew as she watched him meticulously spell word after word.
“I am… as elated as I can possibly be at the moment,” the proud mom stated.
“I was very nervous, as his preparation was interrupted on a few occasions. He was sick all of last week to the point where he had to miss school, including spelling practice,” she related.
Everett noted that despite his many accomplishments, topping all his classes since grade one, she is mindful of pushing him too hard, fearing fatigue and pressure on his young mind.
“While we knew he would again be entering the competition, I decided to give him a break from spelling so he could just relax and enjoy his summer as any child should,” Everett added, noting that he was given a trip to Disney World in Florida.
“When he resumed, it was like he didn’t miss a beat and was simply enjoying himself. The composure he showed today… among 21 other contestants… and where he spelt every single word correctly, just showed me what I already knew. It doesn’t matter what happens at the national championship… Dayton is already a winner,” she said.
Everett said she is grateful for the support from the Nonsuch Primary School community, especially Principal Marlise Cowie Adiansingh.
“She has done a tremendous job here at Nonsuch and must be commended,” Everett noted.
“She has transformed the culture here at the school, placing us on the map and giving us some much-needed attention. Having the winner and a fourth-place finisher in the same competition is truly something special,” she added.
For her part, Adiansingh said she never for a minute doubted that her students would do well.
“The community is happy; teachers and students are happy. I am so proud of these students,” she said.
“Dayton has won back-to-back titles… no ordinary feat for an eight-year-old. The sky’s the limit for this little boy. He is special… going places and could be anything he wants to be in life,” she said.
Dayton’s grandmother, Christine Sparkes said her grandson, who is one of the youngest parish champions ever, is very competitive.
“Even if it’s playing dominoes, he wants to win every game,” she laughed.
Teammate Sasheka agreed, noting: “I asked Dayton if he was nervous [before the competition] and his response was ‘No. I am just here to win so I can go home’.”