Simon Kirschenbaum, a seventh-grader at Deal Middle School in Northwest, celebrates after winning The Washington Informer's 36th Annual Spelling Bee. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Simon Kirschenbaum, a seventh-grader at Deal Middle School in Northwest, celebrates after winning The Washington Informer's 36th Annual Spelling Bee. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

A dynamic duo from Deal Middle School faced off at The Washington Informer’s 36th Annual Spelling Bee where only one claimed the crown to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

Thirty contestants competed during the taped competition on Saturday, March 17 for approximately 25 rounds at NBC 4 studios in Northwest.

Simon Kirschenbaum, a seventh-grader at Deal Middle School in Northwest, spelled the winning word “myocardiograph” with ease, making him the spelling bee champion of the District. Simon’s classmate and friend Joe Finkelstein came in second place.

“I feel good — I don’t know how I did this,” Simon said. “I barely studied at all. I studied maybe an hour last night and an hour today.”

Simon expressed the belief that he has a gift where he doesn’t have to put too much effort into spelling words correctly.

“Ever since at least the second or third grade, I’ve been doing really well in spelling bees; I think I won for the first time when I was in the fourth grade,” he said. “I just sound them [the words] out in my head, think about it and it comes naturally. English is a more complicated language than Spanish- and Latin- based words that are easier to sound out.

Simon says he’s already begun increasing his study time in preparation for the national bee scheduled from May 29 – 31 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

“My piece of advice for someone who wants to be a spelling bee champion is learn about spelling conventions, foreign languages like Latin and also focus on things that make you uncomfortable so you can do your very best,” he added.

Second-place winner Joe promised that he’ll be back to compete again in the future, adding that he’s still proud of his performance this year.

“I’m feeling really happy about this,” he said. “I’m happy that Simon is the one that got first. It’s really nerve wrecking in the beginning, then it mellows out and then it gets hard again, I’m still in shock.”

Simon, because of his victory, walked away with a handful of gifts courtesy of generous sponsors for the event including four round-trip tickets from Southwest Airlines, a check for $1,000 sponsored by Jack H. Olender and Associates, a Giant grocery store gift card and a Washington Informer gift bag.

Joe along with both Noah Dooley and Robert Foster who tied for third place, received cash prizes and tickets for an upcoming Washington Nationals game.

“I’m a big Nats fan,” Simon said. “I try to go to a game twice a year and I try to watch them on TV as much as I can. This is great!”

Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, said she’s pleased to be able to keep the D.C. spelling bee alive and well for yet another year.

“I started working with my dad at the Washington Informer when I was 9, writing stories, making deposits in banks and securing advertisements,” she said. “I’m very honored to be here to support the bee and there is a history behind that. We’ve sort of been pioneers in the Black Press for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.”

The Washington Informer began sponsoring the District-wide spelling bee during the 1981-82 school year after the close and sale of The Washington Daily News left the event without a sponsor.

Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, Sr., founder of The Washington Informer, eventually received a request for his weekly publication to take over as the sponsor of the bee to which he agreed, quickly enlisting the aid of his daughter, Denise Rolark Barnes, then managing editor.

The first city-wide selling bee took place at Backus Junior High School in March 1982.

Sixth-grader John Krattenmaker, who attended Mann Elementary School in Northwest, won the competition but personal challenges made it impossible for him to compete in the National Spelling Bee – something that Dr. Rolark did not know.

The newspaper did not publish on a daily basis which Scripps, at that time, required of its sponsors for the spelling bee. In response, Dr. Rolark, along with his wife and legal counsel, Wilhelmina Rolark, threatened Scripps with an injunction alleging discrimination because of rules that disproportionately affected African-American students. Scripps would soon thereafter revise their rules.

Ron Burke, advertising and marketing director for the newspaper, called each of the participants “winners” – further proving his point by giving them all tickets to a future Washington Nationals baseball game courtesy of the organization.

Other sponsors included: NBC 4, Washington Informer Charities, Toyota, Safeway Foundation, Alta Gas, Xfinity, Silver Spring Signarama Champion Award Trophies and Goods, Merriam-Webster, Comcast, District of Columbia Public Schools, Jack H. Olender & Associates, Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education, Giant, Pepco, National Spelling Bee, Southwest Airlines and WGL.

“We’re happy to sponsor this spelling bee; we do this every year because we absolutely love working with the children and the community,” Burke said. “Dr. Rolark said you will never make it in this world if you don’t know how to read, and you’ll never know how to read if you don’t know how to spell.”

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Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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