Former bee contestant still aces spelling

Saryn Hooks became a spelling star in 2006 when an odd thing happened: During the Scripps National Spelling Bee (her third appearance there), the Alexander County teen was eliminated in the eighth round after judges declared she misspelled “hechsher.” But the judges were wrong, and on national television reinstated Saryn. She wound up finishing third. Saryn is now 16 and a rising junior at Alexander Central High. Here are excerpts of an interview with staff writer Jennifer Rothacker.

Q: Are you still a competitive speller?

I can't be in Scripps (high schoolers are not permitted), but two weeks ago I won the National Beta (Club) bee. It's not nearly as well known. It's a 100-word written test, with about 35 spellers participating. The format was multiple choice, and the words were extremely difficult.

Q: What do you get for winning?

Just a trophy – and the satisfaction of knowing that I'm still able to use what I learned.

Q: Do you miss it?

Well, I do miss the competitions and just participating in them. But if you want me to be honest, I don't miss the studying at all.

Q: You didn't have to hard-core train for the Beta competition?

I studied so intensely in the past, that I retained almost everything.

Q: By placing third in 2006, you won $6,000. What did you do with the money?

I put it in the bank, for college. There was nothing I needed.

Q: Do you relive the word you lost on?

I still think about it, but I don't beat myself up over it. I seriously had never seen the word.

Q: When you watched the Scripps bee on television this year, did you know how to spell all the words the contestants faced?

I think there were three or four words I wasn't sure of. The words are getting more difficult … as the spellers and study technology get better.

Q: What's the secret to being a good speller?

There's a lot of things you can learn. For instance, learning a root word can help you or learning different language rules. Also, just regular reading is a huge help. But I spent most of my time memorizing, then realizing on my own how (the words) are put together.

Q: Have you been able to transfer those skills to other things?

In English, it helps a lot with essays. Also, it helps on the SAT.

Q: What else are you active in?

I'm part of the Red Cross Youth for my county, I volunteer a lot through that. I just started playing golf, and I'd really like to make the girl's golf team this year.

I also work part-time at a local insurance agency and I taught an eight-week spelling enrichment class to prepare up-and-coming spelling bee participants.

Q: Have you started thinking about college?

I want to go to medical school. There are so many colleges out there. I haven't given it much thought, but I'm excited to explore.

Q: Do folks remember you as the speller who got reinstated?

Not necessarily as the girl who got reinstated. But randomly, like at the mall or Barnes & Noble, people will ask if I was in the spelling bee.