After several contentious rounds, a quiet spelling powerhouse from Buck Lodge Middle School emerged Friday as the winner of the Prince George’s County Spelling Bee.
The Washington Informer and Informer Charities hosted their second bee in the county at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in Hyattsville.
Kelly Han correctly spelled “gesundheit,” a German word used to wish good health to a person who has just sneezed, to be crowned winner of the Prince George’s County Spelling Bee.
Han, an aspiring chemist, said she only took a few weeks to prepare.
“I started with my school’s bee and now the county bee and I’m looking forward to the national bee. I think it will be a good adventure,” Han said. “I’m happy about winning and taking it all in.”
Han meekly admitted she didn’t know she would receive prizes but that she would share them with her family.
The winner’s spoils included a trophy from Champion Awards, Trophies and Goods, $500 check from Educational Systems Federal Credit Union along with a gift basket, four roundtrip tickets from Southwest Airlines to go anywhere they fly and a Washington Informer gift bag including a Giant grocery gift card.
On Easter Sunday, April 16, she will be honored at home plate by the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park before heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May at the Gaylord National Resort in Maryland.
Second-place winner Isha Sesay from Charles Carroll Middle School said she will definitely return next year.
“I studied a lot for my first bee,” Sesay said. “I like reading and writing so I thought this would be a fun experience for me. I didn’t think I would go all the way, but I’m excited I got second place.”
She said the best thing about studying for the bee was getting a reward for it and getting good at spelling.
She received $150 from the Educational Systems Federal Credit Union.
Sesay’s advice to her competitors next year: “They should try hard because I’m coming after them.”
Chaka Reid, coordinator of the bee for the county, believes this educational competition makes the students and the community better.
“I’ve been doing the Prince George’s County Spelling Bee for several years starting with the Gazette newspaper before they closed and now I work with the Washington Informer to make sure this Bee still goes on,” Reid said. “The importance of having the Bee every year is because spelling is important. Especially in this age of cellphones, tablets and spell check. I think some of our kids kind of lost that need to spell.
“The kids that come here are dedicated, they pay attention in English and Language Arts and they want to be excellent spellers and I think that’s important for the county and surrounding areas,” she said.
In order for Reid to produce the bee, she starts by inviting Prince George’s County schools to participate, including public, charter and home programs.
“Currently we do sixth, seventh and eighth grade, next year we will open it up to fifth-graders,” she said. “You start in the school, you come to the county then you go to the national bee. … One thing I love about this event is the public speaking. Sometimes we have kids who are very nervous and fearful, but coming on stage spelling words in front of people is invaluable.”
That experience for the students is partly why Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes didn’t want the bee to die in the county.
“As you may know, The Washington Informer was started by my dad, Dr. Calvin Rolark in 1964; my dad died in ’94, and I took over the paper then and continued to publish The Informer,” Rolark Barnes said.
“We have over the years found that Prince George’s County is one of our best areas to distribute the newspaper,” she said. “We’ve got great readership here so it was just natural for us to assume the sponsorship of the Prince George’s County Bee.”
Rolark Barnes asserted that supporting the Bee in the County came about the the same way it did in D.C. decades ago. When other newspapers in the District gave up the sponsorship, leaving the bee in limbo, The Informer stepped up.
“When the weekly newspapers in Washington stopped sponsoring the Spelling Bee, it resulted in Washington not participating in the national bee for 17 years,” Rolark Barnes said. “We came in and this year makes our 35th year sponsoring the bee.”
In 2015, the Gazette newspaper of Prince George’s County that backed the bee for years closed its doors, leaving the position open.
“Just like in D.C., The Washington Informer came in, we did so here, because we didn’t want the same thing to happen in Prince George’s County,” Rolark Barnes said. “We’re pleased to give these young people an opportunity to participate in this event. Not too many of them have seen the national spelling bee. We want to see the winner of the national bee come from Prince George’s County!”