After several weeks of confidence-building, perseverance, and resilience-training, nine contestants in the annual Washington Informer-sponsored Prince George’s County Spelling Bee showcased their “t-a-l-e-n-t” for spelling Friday at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
As the bee began, the history-making contestants — all of whom attend middle schools in Prince George’s County — comforted that the event was being presented virtually for the first time, appeared more relaxed participating from their homes.
While supporters reminded them they didn’t have to worry about feeling intimidated by the glare of spotlights or a roomful of producers, sponsors, camera people and others milling around, some of the nervous contenders had quietly taken to memorizing the spelling of certain words, until pronouncer Dave Zahren reminded them that it was most important to just spell the words in the right order.
“No need for capital letters. Whether you win or lose, remember you have been in the shadow of giants. No matter what happens, everyone wins,” Zahren said.
First up for the nearly two-hour challenge, which began some 20 minutes late, was eighth grader Wenona Majette, who correctly spelled “puzzles.”
Next was seventh grader Elizabeth Curley who breezed through “talent,” followed by sixth grader Amor Wilson’s on-point spelling of “pigsty.”
As the competition quickly moved on to rounds 2, 3 and 4, the competition became more challenging.
However, after a flurry of successive correct spellings for “ascribe” (by Elizabeth), “brilliant” (Amor), “distinctive” (seventh grader Xaria German), “enfranchise” (Amor) and “jabberwocky” (eighth grader Kristin Milburn), the heat turned up, with the contestants dwindling down to just four spellers.
By the time round 5 was announced, three spellers remained having correctly spelled “slovenly,” “duopoly” and “frisket.” Incorrect spellings included “mogul,” “remedial” and “utterable.”
By round 10, only Elizabeth, Kristin and Amor remained.
In the final rounds, all three contestants misspelled words, giving rise to Elizabeth and Amor as the last two competitors.
After a series of back-and-forths between the two that led to the final 15th round, Amor correctly spelled “solenoid.” It was only after competing with himself that he was declared the winner.
“I can finally exhale,” Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes exclaimed after Amor’s win. “Amor, you did so well and we’re very proud of you.”
Vic Samuels from Educational Systems Federal Credit Union said the spelling bee — which has been sponsored the past six years by The Informer after its original host The Gazette folded — “is a good way to salute and support participating students.”
Tracye Funn, manager of Corporate Contributions and Supplier Diversity, Washington, D.C., concurred.
She added that “it was an honor to be able to witness the event” and was happy that its coordinators “didn’t allow the COVID pandemic to stop them from proceeding this year.” The 2020 spelling bee was canceled due to the health care crisis.
Other spellers in this year’s bee included Malachi Jones, Kaylana Padre, Laura Ball and Menelik Diaw.
In addition to the prizes Amor will receive from The Informer and other sponsors, in July he heads to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Orlando, Fla., to compete in the nationally televised event for which he will represent Prince George’s County.