County student letter perfect at spelling bee
Eighth-grader moves on to Scripps National Spelling Bee in June
Middle-school students from across Prince George's County wrestled with silent letters, unfamiliar word origins and their own nerves Friday at the 11th annual The Gazette & The Star Prince George's County Spelling Bee.
They took on one word after another, letter by letter, until only one student remained: 14-year old Evelyn Jo Burch, a home-schooled eighth-grader from Clinton, who will now represent Prince George's at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor in June.
Twenty spellers in all, most of whom were the winners of their school spelling bees, took the stage at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. The 11th annual competition was co-sponsored and organized by The Gazette.
Seventh-grader Kyle Upchurch, 12, from Samuel P. Massie Academy in Forestville, said he was quite nervous as he waited backstage. "I've been going to bed earlier so I can try and relax," he said.
As the spellers waited for the competition to begin, some smiled and waved to friends and family in the audience, but others kept themselves perfectly still, as if focusing only on the task before them.
The spellers were given one word each round. If they failed to give the correct spelling, a single, high-pitched ring from a bell at the judges' table would pierce the tense silence that filled the theater.
Four spellers were eliminated in the first round, felled by words such as "hinterland," "mathematics," "knapsack" and "fidelity." By the fourth round, only four students remained, and after three misspellings, Evelyn was the last speller standing. But she still had to win a final, solo round. If she missed that word, the three that had just been eliminated would return to the stage to join her for another round.
Evelyn's final word was fitting "soliloquy" a speech given only to oneself. When she spoke the last letter and moderator Dave Zahren told her she was correct, a relieved, disbelieving smile spread across her face.
"Wow," Evelyn said afterwards. "I literally didn't think I would make it through the first round, I was so scared ... I knew all of [the words], but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to spell them right."
Evelyn added that she'd been dreaming of going to the national spelling bee for about four years, since seeing the movie "Akeelah and the Bee." She had studied with German- and Spanish-speaking family friends to brush up on words with foreign origins.
Evelyn's parents, Michael and Katherine Burch, said they were very proud her and her hard work.
"She's had to do a lot of looking up [words] on her own," said Katherine Burch, who was often busy teaching Evelyn's four younger siblings.
The victory was exciting, but also meant a lot more studying to prepare for the national bee, Katherine said.
"But anyway, we've had fun," she said.
Before the spelling began, Zahren reminded the audience that no matter the outcome of the night's competition, all of students were winners for having made it this far.
"Even if they miss that first word ... all are letter-perfect," Zahren said.