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Bulloch student to compete in district bee
W 020314 SPELLING BEE 01
While Mattie Lively Elementary School fifth grader Michael Austin, 10, spelled the words " armistice" and "tomahawk" to win this year's Bulloch County Schools Spelling Bee at Southeast Bulloch High School. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

By the time you read this, Michael Austin, Bulloch County’s 2014 Spelling Bee Champion, might already be taking the stage to compete against champions from 17 other counties at the District 8 Spelling Bee in Waycross.

“I think I’ll do well,” the 10-year-old fifth grader said Friday during his lunch break at Mattie Lively Elementary School. “I don’t know what words they’ll call out, but I’ve studied all of them.”

He was referring to a list of suggested spelling words provided to contestants by coordinators of the Georgia Association of Educators district bee, which will be held at 10 a.m. in the Waycross campus of South Georgia State College.

 His secret to spelling well though is a study buddy, 19-year-old brother C.J.

“Whatever big brother does, Michael wants to do,” his mother, Debra, said. “I’m amazed at how well they get along.

A sophomore chemistry major at Georgia Southern University, C.J. Austin has been a mentor, encourager and inspiration to his younger brother.

“He wants to be a pharmacist, and I want to be a heart surgeon,” Michael Austin said, his face beaming. “He’s (C.J.) always helped me study, from the class-level bee to district. He calls out words, gives me tests, and I know he will give me one final test before I leave for district.”

Debra Austin confirmed her older son’s teaching methods.

“When he called out words to Michael, he’d make him go back and study if he missed any,” she said. “I give C.J. all the credit for helping him with the bee.”

“My brother could have been a spelling bee champion too, but he gets nervous,” Michael Austin said. “I don’t get nervous.”

Those who witnessed the Bulloch County bee, held Feb. 3 at Southeast Bulloch High School, can attest to this, as Austin competed round after round with a focused, unfazed expression on his face.

His mother did admit that when they arrived for the county bee, he did not realize that he would be competing against sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade school-level winners too. 

“He just turned to me and said, ‘Mama, this is going to be kind of tough, but I got it,’” she said.

This was Austin’s first year competing in a spelling bee. He came to Mattie Lively last year as a fourth-grader, and will move up to William James Middle School next year. 

“I want to try the bee at William James next year too,” he said.

For someone whose favorite subject is actually math, language arts comes naturally for Austin, a fact confirmed by his language arts teacher, Pam Mather. 

“I have nothing to do with his abilities,” Mather said. “He is very bright, always participates in class, and his answers are very insightful. He is good at everything he does.”

“We’re excited for Michael and happy that a student from Mattie Lively is representing Bulloch County,” Principal Todd Williford said. “His parents have high academic expectations for him, and I know they are proud of him.” 

Austin is the son of Carl and Debra Austin of Statesboro. Carl Austin is a manager at Crider Poultry. Debra Austin, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business, is a teacher at Charter Conservatory. She went back to school to obtain a degree in education and is currently pursuing her doctorate. 

“My kids are my inspiration to learn,” she said.        

The Bulloch County bee is sponsored annually by the local chapter of the Georgia Association of Educators.

Should Austin win today’s District Bee, he will advance to the GAE State Spelling Bee March 21, at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The state winner will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 25-31 in Washington, D.C.

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