“A-P-O-G-E-E.” And just like that, 14-year-old Katie Danis of Gastonia made it through the second round Wednesday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Some kids traced letters on their hands; others spoke in a metronomic rhythm. Many spellers asked for the language of origin or definition. Several asked pronouncer Jacques Bailly, the 1980 bee champion, to use the word in a sentence.
To deal with nerves, Katie sings in her head as she traces the letters. She usually settles in as she is spelling, she said, not before she begins. Sometimes she sings the letters. Wednesday she did not need to sing to pass both onstage rounds.
“I have an eclectic taste in music,” Katie said.
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But while Katie was among the 14 spellers representing North Carolina in the 70th Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday, no spellers from the state advanced to the semifinal round.
Making an impression
Mary Polking of Holy Trinity Catholic Middle School in Charlotte and Thomas Manning of Crest Middle School in Shelby were eliminated in the second onstage round after successfully spelling in the first. Both were first-time spellers in the bee, unlike Katie, who made her third appearance.
Surviving the two onstage rounds was just part of the process Wednesday.
All 281 spellers completed a computer spelling and vocabulary test Tuesday evening. Of the 223 spellers remaining Wednesday afternoon, 46 were chosen to advance to the semifinals based on their test scores. Katie was not among them.
Mary said Tuesday that she was feeling confident leading into the bee. She won the bee at her school earlier this year. That got her interested in competitive spelling.
After the bell rang, notifying her that she had misspelled her second word, Mary turned back to the judges and said, “That’s a nice bell, by the way.”
A first-time competitive speller at the national bee like Mary, Thomas said he wanted to make his school proud. Despite his nerves, he walked confidently up to the microphone both times and started a conversation with Bailly. “I just wanted to make an impression,” he said later.
Thomas spent his lunch break between the two onstage rounds studying from a list of more than 2,000 words provided by the judges as a guide. He said unlike his competitive running of 5K races and half-marathons, spelling causes him anxiety. “You can’t relieve stress in spelling unless you spell the word right,” he said.
Sparking an interest
While Katie, who attends Gaston Day School, will not move on, she wants to bring her love of language to her future career.
“I’ve always known this is for me,” Katie said. She loves philosophy and Latin and hopes to someday be a classics professor, she said.
Even before Katie stepped up to the microphone on Wednesday, she said, “It’s been a spectacular journey.”