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Ophir School’s Riley Niva spells his way to state

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Riley Niva said 'gargantuan' wasn't too difficult to spell correctly in the Gallatin County Spelling Bee. PHOTO AND HANDWRITING BY JACK REANEY

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

Ophir Middle School eighth grader Riley Niva said he’s a normal kid who doesn’t spend all his time studying. By reaching the state spelling bee, Niva demonstrated a prowess for language, at least.  

On Feb. 25, Niva faced county-wide competition from grades 4-8 at the Gallatin County Spelling Bee at the Museum of the Rockies. He finished in the top four, qualifying him for the 58th Annual Treasure State Spelling Bee at Montana State University on March 11, where an unfortunate misunderstanding took him out of contention in the second round.  

After nailing ‘peat,’ Niva mistook the word ‘assure’ for ‘usher,’ and spelled the wrong word correctly. During a March 22 interview, he assured EBS that ‘assure’ is an easy word and spelled it without a blink. 

“There was definitely a pattern that I noticed,” Niva said. “It’s about luck, ‘cause there’s some people who get words like ‘modular’ which is super easy, and there’s people who get ‘candelabra’ which is Latin—and that was a really hard word that I actually got out on.” 

Niva was referring to the county bee at the museum, when ‘candelabra’ stumped him in the late rounds after he spelled words including ‘probably’ and ‘gargantuan.’ He had already qualified for state.  

“That one’s a pretty easy word,” Niva said. “Like, ‘gar’ and then there’s ‘gantuan,’ like, ‘tuan,’ I don’t know.” 

Before the Big Sky School District and Gallatin County bees, students could study from a list of 4,000 words, Niva said. Before the state bee, no words were off limits.  

“I just kinda looked at the words and hoped for the best, which is not the best thing to do,” Niva said, pointing to some competitors who took the process very seriously. “But, I mean, I didn’t know what else to do because there was only a two-week period. You can’t really learn every word in the dictionary in two weeks.” 

Niva recalled feeling nervous as his face was projected on two huge screens in MSU’s Strand Union Ballroom. He noticed cameras from local news station KZBK. 

Niva shared advice for those learning to spell: 

“You have to listen to your teachers. You’re probably going to learn your spelling mostly in the second grade. It depends on how much you remember from second grade… and if you’re able to read really well, you can spell pretty well too, because you start to remember the words and how they’re spelled. You start to remember them and how they’re said.” 

An avid reader according to one former teacher, Niva cited Harry Potter as a great source of words. 

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