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3-time Observer Spelling Bee champion gained confidence, perspective

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/24/21/50/b4SeS.Em.138.jpeg|209
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
    Marshall Winchester, 13, celebrates his victory in the Charlotte Observer Spelling Bee in 2005. It was the third win in a row for the home-schooled Union County youngster. 29 school systems were represented in the 51st regional spelling bee.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/24/21/50/wWkta.Em.138.jpeg|209
    T.ORTEGA GAINES - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
    Marshall Winchester won The Charlotte Observer Spelling Bee in 2004.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/24/21/50/9UcYo.Em.138.jpeg|423
    BOB LEVERONE - Observer archives
    Megan Chappell of Candor spells ``jabot'' to win The Charlotte Observer regional spelling bee in 1994 at Spirit Square
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/24/17/32/rRO4m.Em.138.jpeg|316
    -
    Meghan Chappell.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/24/21/50/LMr42.Em.138.jpeg|202
    LAURA MUELLER - Observer archives
    "Having won two before, there's a lot of pressure to win again," says Megan Chappell (left) of The Charlotte Observer Regional Spelling Bee in 1996. Her final competition was (from left) Stacy Story, Patrick Capotosta and Sean Hou.

More Information

  • Glimpses from past Observer bees

    1999: In a battle of Union County 12-year-olds, Justin Balletta and Valerie Beekman fought one-on-one through 37 rounds, until Justin correctly spelled “inculcate” (to teach by repetition). “Before he spoke, he was spelling words with plastic letters,” said dad Peter Balletta.

    2007: Gideon Whaley of Midland explained his secret: Keeping his nervousness unseen. The eighth-grader at C.C. Griffin Middle School in Cabarrus County won with “contrapuntal” but delayed celebrating: He had school projects due, one on da Vinci and one on Buffalo Soldiers.

    2008: One year after placing second, seventh-grader Molly Crawford of Jay M. Robinson Middle School made it through 26 rounds and won by correctly spelling “abhorrence” and “stratagem.”

    2009: Pittsburgh Steelers fan Vaibhav Shrishail watched the Super Bowl instead of studying words. Both the Steelers and Shrishail won. The 12-year-old Community House Middle School eighth-grader correctly spelled “foraminate.”



Ever wonder what happens to spelling phenoms over the years to adulthood?

They lose fears. They gain perspective. They turn their love of language into a job. Even Latin comes in handy – if you’re Megan Chappell.

Observer readers with long memories may recall that she won The Charlotte Observer Regional Spelling Bee in 1994, 1995 and 1996. (Marshall Winchester and Anant Raut also achieved that feat over the last three decades.) Her post-win reaction, pretty much every time: “Thank God this is over.”

Now 32, she works at SoftPro, a Raleigh company that designs real estate software for attorneys. She has a law degree herself. And she recalls her win as an event that “gave a small-town girl confidence she could go out into the world and do something.

“I was grateful it was over every time, but that was just nerves. (The national bee in Washington) was a great experience – great for meeting people, for expanding my vocabulary, for motivating me to travel more extensively.”

The small town was Candor, Montgomery County home of the North Carolina Peach Festival. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it sits on 1.2 square miles about 70 miles east of Charlotte and contains 840 people. Chappell was the one who could spell jabot, hallucinatory and xerostomia, the words that won for her in 1994, ’95 and ’96, respectively.

She went on to become an English major at Wake Forest University (class of 2004) and get a law degree from Campbell University (class of 2007).

“A big part of that came from the spelling bee,” she says. “I went heavily into reading and writing, and that helped with all the college papers I had to do. Studying the Latin roots of words helped me in law school with legal terms. And I became a very good proofreader.”

She has forgotten the words that knocked her out at the top level. “My mom may have them written down somewhere,” she says with a laugh.

She has never forgotten the self-confidence she gained.

“I could say to myself, ‘I did that. Since I did, I know I can do this other thing staring me in the face.’ I felt that way about the bar exam – and it was true.”

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