Three-peat: Erik Williams wins First Coast Spelling Bee

Clay County 8th grader advances to compete at Scripps National Spelling Bee

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two titans of terminology traded words Friday morning in the finals of the First Coast Spelling Bee. Following 25 rounds, a three-time county champion was left to face the two-time reigning regional king.

The crown stayed with Erik Williams, an 8th grader from St. Johns Country Day School in Clay County, marking his third-straight First Coast Spelling Bee championship.

“It feels great,” Williams said after the three-hour regional final held over Zoom ended. “I worked really hard. My family’s helped me to prepare and I just really thank them for all that they do for me.”

Facing Williams in the final was Manischa Wijayawardhana, a 7th grader from St. Johns County who was competing in her third straight regional final.

The winning word was ‘abience,’ which according to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary means, “Tendency to withdraw from a stimulus object or situation.”

Williams did not exhibit abience from 13 fellow competitors which had all won their respective county bees, saying he had not heard the word before but was able to use the definition and other predetermined information provided by the pronouncer to figure it out.

“It’s really scary doing each level of competition,” Williams said. “It’s really scary for everybody but you have to stay relaxed under pressure.”

WATCH IT ALL: Rounds 1-7 | Rounds 8-25

Adding an extra level of challenge to the 2021 First Coast Spelling Bee was the change in format, due to the global pandemic. The 13 finalists all took part in a virtual competition where the pronouncer, judges, recordkeepers and competitors communicated through computer cameras and microphones.

Williams will now compete for the second time in the Scripps National Spelling Bee when the finals are held near Orlando in July. He is anxious to return, given that the COVID-19 health crisis canceled the event in 2020.

“I’m really looking forward to be able to go again this year and hopefully represent everybody really well,” he said.