Hands danced in the air, scribbling invisible letters, as 21 local students took part in The News & Advance Regional Spelling Bee Saturday morning.
For more than an hour, students ages 10 through 14 stepped up to the microphone, working to remember all the letters of “archipelago,” or if “adagio” was an Italian or Latin word.
The competition kicked off at 9 a.m. inside the auditorium of Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation. The contest had been on their minds long before that.
“Starting around Christmas, we spend time daily on words,” said Christine Schram, mother of 12-year-old Jensen Schram. “She’s always been a bit of a word-hoarder.”
Schram, a 7th-grader at New Covenant Schools, was runner up in last year’s bee.
Families sat anxiously in the dim light of the auditorium. About a half hour after the competition had started, only 9 spellers remained.
Among the audience members was Josh Bryars, a fifth and sixth grade math teacher at New Covenant. He served as a spelling judge in Schram’s school spelling bee and said he wanted to see her show her mettle again Saturday.
“I was totally impressed,” Bryars said. “I tried to do whatever I could to encourage her.”
Schram, Nuha Reza and John Light were the final three spellers remaining. Light, of Brookville Middle School, appeared calm, often spelling out words without asking any questions. Finally, he stumbled on “staccato,” a short and sudden end to his strong run.
Reza and Schram then went into one-on-one combat without any signs of slowing down.
Margie Lippard, director of major and planned giving at Sweet Briar College and Saturday’s pronouncer, bombarded the two with intricate words filled with silent vowels.
After about a half hour, Reza slipped on “coati,” coming in second place to Schram. (A coati is a mammal related to the raccoon.)
Schram then correctly spelled “perestroika” (the Soviet Union reforms of the 1980s) to claim the title.
The audience stood in applause after the competition.
“I had a feeling this was my year,” Schram said afterwards. “I was really excited.”
Throughout the competition, Schram appeared confident, sometimes smiling. She said she nearly broke out laughing when she was asked to spell “repertoire” — the word that knocked her out of last year’s spelling bee.
“I thought ‘I know this word, and I’m not going to get out on it again,” Schram said.
Schram won a $100 savings bond, a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica online, and Webster’s Third New International Spelling Bee Supplement. She will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C. in May.