SUMMERVILLE — Students of all shapes and sizes, ethnic backgrounds and outfits gathered Thursday around a common demoninator: the English language.

Both Dorchester District 2 and the Berkeley County School District held their annual spelling bees Thursday.

The first one went down on "stucco." The next fell to "bonanza."

Deaunte Murray, a seventh-grader at River Oaks Middle School, was the last one standing. He won first place on the word "archipelago."

Clayton Otter, a seventh-grader at Rollings Middle School of the Arts, finished second, after being knocked out on the word "renaissance."

Murray has been competing in the district spelling bee since the fifth grade. He said he didn't make a special effort to prepare this year, other than an all-day cram session Wednesday.

"I just memorize words when I see them," he said.

He often wrote out the words on the palm of one hand with his finger before spelling them out loud.

His mother, Robin Brown, a kindergarten teacher, said she pushed her son to enter because she thinks the contest is important.

"This gives them hope," she said. "It lets them see

they can accomplish anything they put their mind to."

Seven other students (the other top nine finishers) will also represent the district at Spellbound! in March. They are Abbryanna DuTill of Alston Middle School, Krishna Cabiad of River Oaks, Kathleen Crotty, Walker Hagan and Demondre Green of Rollings, and Katie Foster and Joseph Hibbs of Gregg Middle School.

Dorchester District 4 held its spelling bee last week. Students from Charleston and Colleton counties will compete later this month.

The district winners, along with those from private and home schools, will face off in a regional contest called Spellbound! March 5 at Charleston Southern University. The Spellbound! winner will head to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 26-28. The Post and Courier pays for the trip for the Spellbound! winner and a guardian.

Fifty-one students represented Dorchester District 2's 17 elementary and middle schools Thursday morning at Knightsville Elementary School. Some had to lean down to speak into the microphone. Others had to crane their necks upward.