This year, fifth-grader Samantha Schofield will skip her last week of classes at Fallen Timbers Middle School in Whitehouse. As her classmates and teachers wrap up the school year, the 11-year-old will head to National Harbor, Md., to compete in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The national spelling competition, which is in its 86th year, pits young spellers from across the country against each other in several rounds of vocabulary tests and spell-offs.
Starting Tuesday, 280 children ranging in age from 8 to 14, will try to spell their way to the top. Among them, Samantha will represent northwest Ohio.
On March 14, Samantha won the 2013 Blade Northwest Ohio Championship Spelling Bee, an annual competition sponsored by The Blade and the Ohio Lottery. In a three-hour spell-off at Owens Community College’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts, Samantha spelled more than 26 words in a lengthy contest against 53 students from nine city regions.
Fallen Timbers teachers present at the competition remember being astonished by Samantha’s spelling skills.
“Another teacher and I were trying to spell along, but Samantha was spelling words we didn’t even know,” said Brian Billings, who teaches a learning enrichment and acceleration program at Fallen Timbers.
It was with the spelling of crambo — a game in which a player gives a word to which another player must find a rhyme — that Samantha clinched the title of winner. As a prize, she received an expenses-paid trip to the Washington area for the National Spelling Bee, a $100 savings bond, a plaque, and a Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
Right after the regional spelling bee, Samantha received “calls from all over the place,” recalled her mother, Janet Schofield. “They were spelling coaches interested in working with Sam,” she said. “It was a little overwhelming.”
However, the young spelling bee champion decided to put her brand-new dictionary away on the shelf and take a break from spelling for a month. But now, as the National Spelling Bee approaches, she is back to her old daily study routine. Every night, Samantha spends about an hour before bed studying words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes for a total of about 200 terms a night.
“When she starts spelling wrong, we know it’s time to go to bed,” said her mother.
“Sleep gets in the way,” she added, jokingly.
Samantha won her first spelling bee in second grade, when she attended Monclova Elementary School.
She has competed in six spelling contests in her school since, but it was only this March that she was able to meet the age requirement for The Blade spelling bee.
“I love spelling — it’s fun,” the spelling champ said. But she admits that she still struggles with German-derived words.
In addition to spelling, Samantha divides her time between school and sports, practicing a different activity every weekday, including rollerblading, competitive swimming, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer.
An avid reader, Samantha is a “self-motivated, organized and positive student” in class, according to her teachers. In August, she tested into Mr. Billings’ LEAP class, which meets every Tuesday from 7:45 a.m. to 2:35 p.m.
“Samantha is just a great symbol for what it means to be a good student,” Mr. Billings said. “Not just because she is smart, but because of the attitude she brings to class.”
Rarely does Samantha miss the spelling of a word, and sometimes her classmates reach out to her with their spelling questions, Mr. Billings said.
However, Samantha said her favorite subject in school is science, and she excludes the possibility of a future career in writing.
“I’m good with words, but I’m not much of a writer,” she said. “Since I was young, I always wanted to be a pediatrician.”
The spelling bee competition will start Tuesday, with a computer-based spelling and vocab test. Preliminary on-stage rounds will take place Wednesday, while semifinals will begin Thursday afternoon, immediately followed by the finals at 8 p.m.
Despite the pressure of a three-day spelling competition, Samantha said she’s determined to find the right letters.
“I’m not nervous right now, but I might be when I’ll be on stage,” she said.
The 2013 Scripps National Bee will be televised live nationwide on ESPN3 Wednesday, ESPN2 Thursday afternoon, and ESPN on Thursday night.
Contact Lorenzo Ligato at: email@example.com or 419-724-6091.