CHAMPION speller has been practicing since 2

Monday, May 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IDABEL, Okla. (AP) _ Tamara Heffley remembers when she discovered her son, Bobby, could spell really well.

He was 2 years old, sitting next to her as she was reading a magazine, she said. He said the word ``free'' that he saw in a full-page advertisement, then ran to the refrigerator and spelled ``free'' with magnetic letters on the appliance door.

``He was jumping up and down,'' Heffley said. ``Then he removed the `f' and replaced it with `t' and said `tree.'''

When her son was four, Heffley said she spelled ``picnic'' backward for her husband and their older daughter. Bobby Heffley deciphered it before his father and sister.

Now at 15, Bobby Heffley is taking his 13 years experience all the way to Washington, D.C. Bobby Heffley will represent Oklahoma this month in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. The eighth-grader has been to the state finals every year since the second grade.

On Friday, his classmates at Idabel Middle School held a surprise assembly in his honor. School principal Richard Miller thanked him for ``helping put Idabel on the map.''

Then the mayor of Idabel, who happens to be Bobby Heffley's great uncle, declared May 11 as Bobby Harris Heffley Day.

````I've knowed him all of his life,'' Mayor James Mills said. ``He can spell words I can't even say.''

Not surprising for a teen-ager who reads dictionaries and magazines for pleasure.

Bobby Heffley said he prepares for spelling bees by reading the dictionaries. ``Third New International Webster,'' he replied when asked which dictionary he uses.

Bobby Heffley correctly spelled ``paralysis'' to win the 2001 Scripps Howard-Daily Oklahoman Spelling Bee in March in Oklahoma City.

One of his awards was the Webster's dictionary, which he started reading in March to prepare for the national competition. This will be his third time through a dictionary. He is at ``N'' and intends to finish it before the May 27 competition.

``He is a genius, I am here to tell you,'' said Jan Devore, his English teacher and longtime coordinator of the spelling bee for Idabel Middle School. ``He tops out in everything. If you give him a piece of information, it's there. His science project this year was mathematics. His project was so up there, we didn't even know what it was about. I have a gut feeling he is going to win nationals.''

The 4.0 student and member of the Honor Society would like to be a stockbroker one day.

``I like money,'' he said.

His flight to Washington will be his first trip on a plane. He's been no farther from home than Fort Worth, Texas, and Oklahoma City.

When a photographer remarked that she must be proud of him, Heffley said, ``Yes, proud and somewhat bewildered sometimes.

``Finally, McCurtain County is in the news for something besides drugs and murder.''