The phrase “third time’s a charm” recently became the identifying moniker for Alyssa Burgos, an eighth-grader at the Holy Redeemer School.
After entering the spelling bee for the past two years, Alyssa emerged the winner of the 2019 Prince George’s County Spelling Bee on Friday, March 15 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
“I feel relieved,” she said. “I have been studying for three years for this moment.”
The Washington Informer and the Washington Informer Charities sponsored the event along with Washington Gas, the Educational Systems Federal Credit Union, Giant and Safeway supermarkets, the Washington Nationals, Pepco and the Foundation for the Advancement of Music Education.
Dozens of parents, family and friends of the 26 contestants sat in the beautiful, state-of-the-art Delkelboum Concert Hall to watch the nearly three-hour competition.
While the D.C. version of the Informer Bee has taken place for 37 years, the Prince George’s County bee under the Informer started four years ago when the Prince George’s County Gazette Newspapers, who ran the contest for decades, ceased publication.
Denise Rolark Barnes, Washington Informer publisher and Washington Informer Charities president, sought the rights to the Prince George’s Bee and got them.
“If it wasn’t for The Washington Informer, we wouldn’t have a spelling bee,” Chauka Reid, the Prince George’s County Spelling Bee coordinator, told the audience.
“We thought it important to keep it going in Prince George’s County,” Barnes said. She noted that the spelling bee “is just as exciting as a football, soccer and basketball game.”
The contestants, dressed in white polo shirts and slacks or skirts of their choice, received words of encouragement from Dr. George Askew, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for Health and Human Services. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks had to skip the event because of pressing business.
The contestants got to the spelling bee by winning school competitions.
Helen Knowles, the former manager of administrative services at the Bowie Health Center; Jeffrey Lyles, managing editor of the Emergency Physicians Monthly, and Barnes served as the event’s judges. David Zahren, a television instruction specialist with the Prince George’s County Public Schools Department of Television Resources and Web Services, served as the moderator.
The contestants sat on the lighted stage in three rows of chairs. Zahren sat at the front of the audience with the judges in an area known as “the pit” in most theaters because it sits lower than the stage.
The contestants used two microphones of different heights for the competition.
During the competition, a contestant would be asked to spell a word. The contestant could have the moderator to give the meaning and origin of the word as well as its use in a sentence.
If the contestant spells the word correctly, Zahren would say so but if not, a judge would ring the bell and the moderator would give the right spelling. The contestant would walk off the stage to the sound of applause from the audience.
Audience members could not help the contestants in any way but could be encouraging. Omar Pierre, a Beacon Heights Elementary School student, received encouragement from a supporter in the audience with a huge white sign with colored writing saying “Go Omar Pierre” and when Pierre spelled a word correctly, his fan would hoot and holler.
The contestants go to public, private or religious schools in Prince George’s County from grades 5-8.
Kayden Wilkins, last year’s winner, played a recording of his win and spoke positively of representing Prince George’s at the national competition at the National Harbor.
“By being here, you are winners,” Kayden said, telling the contestants to “take your time, get the definition of the word and how it is used in a sentence and enjoy the experience.”
The contest lasted 15 rounds. The first two rounds had easier words and few dropped out of the competition. However, by the third round, only nine spellers remained. That number dwindled by two in the fourth round and in the fifth, five had lasted.
By the end of the sixth round, Alyssa and Shree Ruttala, a seventh-grader at Hyattsville Middle School, had emerged as the two finalists.
Alyssa and Shree competed amicably through seven rounds. For a while, when it seemed that Alyssa would win by Shree misspelling a word, she would misspell her word also.
In the 15th round, Alyssa finally pulled through on the word “cilia,” defined as an organelle found on eukaryotic cells and are slender protuberances that project from the much larger cell body.
When Alyssa found out she won, she sat quietly for a minute, soaking the moment in.
The contestants re-emerged on the stage and received small, gold trophies and gift bags from the sponsors. Alyssa received four Southwest Airlines tickets to go anywhere it flies, six tickets to the April 13 Washington Nationals-Pittsburgh Pirates game at Nationals Park in the District, and the largest trophy.
All the other contestants received two tickets to the Nationals game as well.
Alyssa also got a gift card from the Educational Credit Union for a $500 Visa gift card. Shree received a certificate of recognition, the second largest trophy and $150 Visa gift card from the credit union and six tickets to go to the Nationals game.
Both Alyssa and Shree also received gift bags from the sponsors.
A representative from Prince George’s County’s CTV told the audience that the event will be televised on its station in the near future and videos will be given to the families and schools of each contestant.
Alyssa’s father, Jorge Burgos, beamed at his daughter.
“I am very proud of her,” he said. “She has been practicing very hard to come here and compete. She practiced almost every night for this.”
Jyothirmai, Shree’s mother, said her son worked hard to get to the final round, too.
“He told us about this competition and we let him do it,” she said. “Shree is very active in the Science Fair at his school and he won second in the Science Bowl. This is his first spelling bee and he really did a good job. It was a pleasure for me to watch him work hard.”
Shree deemed the spelling experience “exhilarating” and said he is glad he participated.
As a result of Alyssa’s win, she and her family will have an all-expenses-paid stay at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor this summer as she represents the county in the national competition.