Spellers hit their Paideias for Saturday’s spelling bee

By Marlena Hartz

The fate of the young contestants hinge on words that are rarely used in daily speech and rarely seen in ink: “Samovar,” a metal urn; “nisse,” a friendly goblin of Scandinavian folklore that frequents farm buildings; “torrenticole,” an organism that lives in swiftly flowing water.

But it isn’t the rarity, nor the absurdity, of the words that impress most. It is the ability of some contestants to spell the words without a hitch.

Thirty-four regional champion spellers will assemble Saturday at Clovis Community College to compete for the chance to go to the 79th Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. The contestants range in age from 9 to 14.

Shannon Spurgeon, a student at Barry Elementary School in Clovis, is one of them.

The 11-year-old out-spelled more than 50 students to win her spot at the regional competition. Her ability to spell difficult and rare words, she said, is innate.

“It kind of comes naturally,” Shannon said. “I can hear a word, and spell it on a piece of paper, and just look at it, and I know if it isn’t spelled right.”

Her uncanny talent, however, doesn’t make studying unnecessary, Shannon said. She studies a list of words every night for about 30 minutes, she said.

Newspapers from across the country, including the Portales News-Tribune, sponsor the national contest, which zeroes in on an area sometimes neglected, according to the Scripps National Spelling Bee Web site, http://www.spellingbee.com.

“Business men, editors and educators generally agree that graduates of high schools and colleges are less competent in spelling than in any of the fundamental subjects such as arithmetic, geography and English,” the Web site reads.

The regional bee is also an occasion to reward and recognize good study habits, according to the coordinator of the regional spelling bee, Clovis Municipal Schools Instruction Department Assistant Carol Dorazio.

Dorazio said the bee gives students an opportunity to showcase months of intense practice.

“They know words people in the audience have never spelled before in their life,” Dorazio said.

School board member Lora Harlan will be among a panel of judges Saturday who will listen for spelling mistakes. It is a duty she approaches with joy.

She has participated in the bee as a judge for nearly a decade, she said.

“I am excited about listening to the kids spell. It takes a lot of effort and courage on their part, and they are all winners because they won at their schools,” Harlan said.

Spelling contestants will report to the CCC Town Hall stage at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, and the spelling battle will begin shortly after, according to Dorazio.