Conyers siblings build legacy as word warriors
Check out a video of the Duncan sisters spelling a prehistoric favorite, here.
CONYERS—The Duncan family has a spelling addiction. On the way to school, on the way to practices, on the way home, they’re spelling. So, for 13-year-old Jazz Duncan, winning the Rockdale County Spelling Bee on Feb. 7—her third year in a row—was no pressure, just another day in their world.
“This is what we like to do. We’re often calling out random words to each other. Our whole family stays on the hunt to test each other,” said Jazz, whose 15-year-old brother, Jaire, and 10-year-old sister, Zora, are spelling bee champs in their own right.
With Jazz Duncan’s recent win, a sibling from the Duncan family has won the Rockdale County bee trophy for six years running now.
Jaire, now in 10th grade at Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, was the first spelling champ in his family. He won the county spelling bee three years in a row when he attended Memorial Middle School. Jazz, an 8th grader at Memorial Middle School, followed in her older brother’s footsteps, also winning three years consecutively. And young Zora, a sixth grader at Memorial Middle School, followed in Jazz’s footsteps. Last year, Zora placed second at the county’s Spelling Bee. She’s looking forward to Jazz going off to high school next year with the hopes of replacing her as the new champ. Jazz’s entrance into high school will mean the two sisters will no longer have to slug it out at the middle school with one another.
“We both push each other to stay on top. We think of different words randomly and have fun with it,” said Zora. “Sometimes, we make each other nervous at competitions because we both know the other one can spell so well.”
Heather Duncan often coaches her children. She says they are so successful in competing because they don’t just try to cram words in for memorization but rather make the words a part of everyday life.
“With school work being first and then other activities like dance, we spell whenever and wherever we get the chance to,” said Heather Duncan.
The sisters don’t just spell. They compete in reading bowls, play soccer and are avid dancers, with moves in the styles of ballet, tap, modern and of course, jazz, the form of music that the older Duncan sister was named after. The two girls enjoy playing the piano and just having fun together as sisters when they are not spelling.
The victories don’t always come easy, even if the word is spelled right.
“My husband, David, and I have had to protest on the County and State level with certain words and procedures. We keep the rules and regulations with us to make sure,” said Heather Duncan, who admits that oftentimes when her children compete, they’re among the few African Americans participating. “The higher up you go in competition, yes, you do see fewer and fewer African American students.”
But Heather Duncan says she believes it’s not because African Americans are not talented in that arena. Excelling in sports is just pushed more, she said.
“We have great minds in the African American community. We just need to showcase them for the brilliant minds they are,” said Heather Duncan.
In addition to the county’s spelling bees, Jaire and Jazz have also won the National Beta Society’s state spelling competition in past years.
The family’s focus is now directed on Jazz’s next competition: She competes on Feb. 23 at the Regional Bee at Mundy’s Middle School in Jonesboro. Jazz is currently the reigning two-time champion for the regional competition. If she wins, she will be the three-time champion for both the County and Regional Bee.
The winner of the Regional Bee will go on to spell against the best in Georgia at the State Spelling Bee on March 15, at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Jazz has placed in the top five before. Jazz has never won the state title but she is motivated to do just that.
“I would love to see the Capitol and compete in Washington, D.C.,” said Jazz Duncan.