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Hickory Public Schools seventh-grader claims spelling bee title

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

More Information

  • Tense moments
  • Words on way to title

    Some of the words that Spelling Bee champ Claire McCrea correctly spelled on Monday:

    • holster

    • lithe

    • pyre

    • lokshen

    • terrapin

    • cynosure

    • witloof

    • tremulous

    Winning word

    • c ondescension: an act or instance of assuming an air of superiority (as to one inferior or less fortunate).



After a day like Monday, Hickory Public Schools seventh-grader Claire McCrea is allowed some leeway for condescension.

After all, during her first appearance at the Charlotte Observer Regional Spelling Bee, McCrea beat 26 other students from across the Carolinas when she correctly spelled “condescension,” a noun with a Latin origin.

Instead, McCrea said she just “lucked out,” recalling what a tremulous and nervous mess she was right before the competition began.

Tremulous was the second-to-last word she spelled correctly in the competition, by the way.

27 students from across the Carolinas competed Monday in the 59th annual Charlotte Observer Regional Spelling Bee at the Wachovia Playhouse in ImaginOn.

Spellers ages 8-14 competed for an all-expense-paid trip, courtesy of the Observer, to Washington D.C. for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in late May.

Other prizes for the champion included a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a certificate for a $100 U.S. savings bond and a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

Sam Quarles, representing Mecklenburg County independent schools, came in second place and Ashwin Subramaniam, of Union County Public Schools, came in third.

Ellen McCrea said her daughter has studied the words in the competition handbook for weeks and “knew them forward and backward.”

She’d also studied root-word spelling rules in preparation for the rounds in which students would have to spell words that weren’t in the handbook.

“I think origin is the most important thing to ask about,” Claire McCrea said, noting that the origin will often give insight on how to spell the word.

Ellen McCrea described Claire as an avid reader of fantasy and science-fiction novels. She also has a bit of a photographic memory, she said.

But while driving to the competition on Monday, Ellen McCrea said Claire felt sick to her stomach.

“She was so nervous,” Ellen McCrea said. “I told her, ‘You’ve studied hard and you’ve already achieved something by getting this far.’”

The bee started promptly at 10 a.m., with the first student dropped from the competition by misspelling “rucksack.”

There were a couple of suspenseful moments, including when the judges had to ask someone in the production box to play back the spelling of a word to determine whether the student had spelled it correctly.

The judges ruled in favor of the student, who had spelled “zenith.”

“It was pretty dramatic. More dramatic than we’re used to,” judge Ellyn Ritterskamp said.

For the 18th round, the competition switched to words that contestants had not studied on a list beforehand.

“Once we leave the list of words that they’ve had prepared, it gets brutal pretty quickly,” Ritterskamp said. “These are good honest attempts at words they don’t know.”

By the 19th round, there were four hold-outs: Claire, Sam Quarles, Ashwin Subramaniam and Lindsay Greene from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Ashwin and Lindsay dropped out during the 19th round.

Then with Sam misspelling “forbearance” and Claire spelling her two words correctly, the seventh-grader claimed the title.

Claire said she plans to continue studying new words leading up to the national competition in May.

“Anything could happen. So every word you see, if you don’t know it, try to learn it,” she said. “All the other people who got out shouldn’t feel bad. Half the words I didn’t know, but I just got lucky.”

Arriero: 704-777-7070 On Twitter: @earriero
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