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Georgia Psychologist Wins AARP Spelling Bee in Cheyenne

June 20, 2011

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - The winner of this year's AARP National Spelling Bee in Cheyenne didn't monkey around when it came to studying or winning. Tony Johnson of LaGrange, Georgia, took home the top prize of $5,000 by correctly spelling the name of a South American monkey. His study method? Systematically going through the dictionary "from 'A to Z.'"

Here's Johnson spelling the winning word.

"The word is uakari. Either of two short-tailed, mostly naked-faced South American monkeys. U-A-K-A-R-I, uakari. That is correct."

Johnson was taken by surprise when first announced as the winner.

"$5,000. I don't know what to say; I'm all out of words."

Joanne Mai, AARP Wyoming associate director of communications, says complete lists of words used in this year's competition are available online at aarp.org, along with information on how to prep and register for next year's event.

The bee turned 16 this year. Mai traces the beginning to a brainstorming session.

"A group of AARP members here in Cheyenne wanted to encourage their peers to keep their minds sharp as they age, but they wanted a fun way to do that. So, they came up with the idea of holding an old-fashioned spelling bee."

Two former winners of the bee took second and third places. Michael Petrina, Jr., of Virginia placed second, and third went to last year's winner, Scott Firebaugh of Tennessee.

Spellers ranged in age from 50 to 81 this year.

A complete list of winners is at aarp.org.

A photo of Tony Johnson is at ht.ly/51jxA

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY