Even before they spell, they’re already winners
Three middle school students from Southern Maryland will step into the national spotlight today with 288 other competitors at the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor. And no matter what happens, these three remarkable spellers are already champions.
Charles County’s champion speller is Milton M. Somers Middle School eighth-grader Haley Payton. She rolled through the local competition in February in 13 rounds. Her winning word was “amphibious.”
St. Mary’s County will be represented by Annalee Johnson, an eighth-grader from the Chesapeake Public Charter School. Johnson won a marathon spelling match within a match in March with Katie Frazier, an eighth-grader from Leonardtown Middle School. After the rest of the field had been eliminated in seven rounds, Johnson and Frazier volleyed more than 50 words back and forth before Johnson finally emerged as the champ by correctly spelling “serdab.”
This is the second trip to the nationals for Calvert County’s local champion, Anna Kleist. Now an eighth-grader, the Plum Point Middle School student won her county’s bee for a second straight year, so she’s a veteran of the national stage. She triumphed in the Calvert bee this spring in 24 rounds, winning with the word “algorithm.” As in the St. Mary’s bee, the competition was between two spellers for multiple rounds after the rest of the field was winnowed away. Kleist outlasted fellow Plum Point student Sadie Storm, a seventh-grader.
Now it’s on to the nationals, where there’s no guarantee there will be a clear winner, if recent history is any indication. The Scripps bee has crowned co-champions for the past three years when spelling deadlocks could not be broken. The winner gets a $40,000 grand prize, while second place brings home $30,000.
When they’re not spelling this week, Johnson, Kleist and Payton will be treated to a number of special events in and around the nation’s capital with their families and other competitors.
Preliminaries, including a computerized spelling test, took place yesterday. Two oral rounds will be conducted today, taking the form of a traditional spelling bee. A four-section, computer-delivered test will be administered to the spellers tonight. Those who emerge from all of that will advance to the finals, which will be televised live tomorrow night starting at 8:30 on ESPN.
No matter what happens this week at National Harbor, Johnson, Kleist and Payton are brilliant students who have truly earned their place on the national stage. They were sponsored by the Maryland Independent, The Enterprise and The Calvert Recorder — the three Southern Maryland newspapers in the APG Media of Chesapeake group — as well as Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, the College of Southern Maryland and Chaney Enterprises.
Whatever this week brings for each of them, we already count them as winners. Today and tomorrow, we eagerly cheer them on, and we invite the community to join us in showing support for our hardworking and talented tri-county spellers.