Spelling must be deeply ingrained in our family's genes.

I loved spelling bees as a kid and have been able to spell most words I've come across during my life. Since I have many other obvious flaws, maybe it doesn't hurt to toot my own horn if I can find something to toot about.Our oldest son, Darrin, now a college senior, was a spelling bee champion for three years running in junior high in Massachusetts.

So it was not too surprising that we would see the same interest and expertise in our youngest son, Spencer, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Canyon View Elementary.

Spelling has always come easy for him. He won his first recognition two years ago by winning his third-grade spelling bee in Massachusetts.

The next year he did the same in Utah for the fourth grade, then came in fourth in the school spelling bee.

Finally, this year was the big year.

He not only won his fifth-grade bee but the entire school spelling bee as well.

The winning word after one hour was singularize, which he considered a piece of cake. Ironically, the girl who missed a word just before the big one went out on simnel, a word I had never even heard of - which actually is a rich fruit-cake sometimes baked with an almond paste.

Spence didn't miss a word.

Although the whole school was his audience, he wasn't exceptionally nervous.

"Mr. Oscarson gave me the key - he said, `Don't look at the audience.' It worked."

What interests me the most about this personal success story is not the victory itself, although the whole family was excited about it, or that Spencer brought home another trophy.

What is fascinating is the resolute determination with which he approached the task - without being obnoxious.

Even though he is a naturally good speller, he was given a long list to study prior to the bee, and he decided to study it with vigilant assistance from his mother.

When he was through, he said with absolute confidence but a peculiar lack of arrogance - "I'm going to win!"

We told him that he should give it his best shot and that we would love him and be proud of him no matter what happened.

He appreciated that, but he remained determined.

"This is my year," he said.

I realize that there are all kinds of people in diverse situations other than spelling bees who say with equal determination that they will win - and then they don't.

Just look at all the disappointed political candidates for every office to which only one person can be elected.

Or the limited number of spots available for acceptance to Harvard or Stanford.

Or the people who intend to write the great American novel or fashion themselves to become the movie stars of the future.

Timing and persistence must inexorably blend.

There are many variables in life that undoubtedly prevent even the best and most resolute desires from being rewarded.

But to accomplish anything of significance, all of us need enough self-confidence to believe that we can do it.

I remember that as a young child going to school for the first time, Spence said that school was fun and "everybody likes me."

It jarred me at first, because it was a self-assured statement that I could never have imagined myself ever saying - especially in the first grade.

And I thought, "Whoops, where is the humility?"

Yet Spence seems, so far at least, to have found that seemingly impossible balance between confidence and humility that allows people to like him - even while he works tirelessly to achieve goals he knows he is capable of achieving.

It's disarming.

And if he keeps that balance, I know he's going to make it.