Spring Break Brings Spelling Bee to UMD

By Iman Smith, Bloc Reporter 

The 14th Annual Prince George’s County Spelling Bee lasted nearly 12 rounds; middle schoolers vigorously spelled words so difficult, even college professors would seek a dictionary.

Tamya Matthews of Mt. Calvary Catholic School emerged victorious on March 14 at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

Matthews, a charismatic seventh-grader, competed against 32 finalists from different schools within PG County.

On a 1-to-10 scale, Matthews said her happiness reached a 12 after winning this year’s bee.

Mt. Calvary Principal Darcy Tomko said she was proud of Matthews’ accomplishment.

“I am just bursting with joy for her,” Tomko said with tears in her eyes. “She has wanted to win this since she was in the first grade. She is just a phenomenal student.”

Aside from her triumph at the Bee, Matthews engages in a variety of extracurricular activities.

“Softball, basketball, work, other bees, band—I play the clarinet,” Matthews said.

Tomko said Matthews is also invested in theater, taking on lead roles in musicals such as, “Annie” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Tomko said Matthews is a Principal Honor’s Student, consistently maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

From 7 p.m. until around 10 p.m. students tried their hand at spelling simple words like “sumo” and “mascot” in the Bee’s first round.

The Bee’s officials selected words from the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, according to the program.

David Zahren, a television instructional specialist with the Prince George’s County Public Schools’ Department of Television Resources and Web Services, moderated the event.

Three judges adjudicated the event: second-year judge Jason Lott of CSPAC; Marty Wollesen, executive director of CSPAC; and Helen Knowles, manager of administrative services at Bowie Health Center.

As the Bee progressed, words became more difficult, Zahren asking students to spell “conquistador” and “zeitgeber.”

Judges signaled misspelled words with a bell toll and asked students to exit stage left.

With difficult words, students intuitively asked the moderator for the language of origin or alternative pronunciations.

At round six, about 9 p.m., only 10 spellers remained, audience members in Dekelboum Concert Hall restlessly watched their young scholars.

In the final round, only two spellers remained: Matthews and Shawn Muoneke of The Academy of St. Matthias the Apostle. Matthews won with the word “prosciutto.”

Runner-up Muoneke, a phenomenal finalist, spelled difficult words of Germanic and Arabic origin throughout the Bee.

Matthews was not the only talented speller.

The following spellers tactically endured challenging words: Ifeoma Okeke of Kenmoor Middle School; Shiuika Gaind of Holy Redeemer School; Rachel Fredericks of Christian Home Educating Families; and Kimberly Galeano Rubio of William Wirt Middle School.

Spellers received a trophy and goody bag for their tenacious work ethic both onstage and preparing for the event.

Matthews won the following: a $100 savings bond; a trophy; a Merriam-Webster Dictionary; a $500 shopping spree, courtesy of The Mall at Prince Georges; and an Amazon Kindle Fire accompanied with various gift cards from sponsors.

The event was presented in collaboration with The Gazette and Gazette-Star.

Chauka Reid, marketing consultant for The Gazette and Gazette-Star, coordinated the Bee.

Reid said the arduous preparation for the event began back in September.

“We coordinate with the schools to get all the winners. [The schools] have their own spelling bee and then their winner comes here,” Reid said.

Reid said Matthews will advance to The Scripps National Spelling Bee, an expense-paid trip, held at the National Harbor.

What will Matthews do to prepare for her next bee?

“I’m going to study every single day,” Matthews said. “At least three hours.”

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