Islander Participates In A Great American Tradition

— by Ayn Gailey —

San Juan County Spelling Bee representatives from left to right: Marcia King, Emma Mughal (both from San Juan) and Gray Gailey (Orcas). Photo: Isabella Douglas

There are no banners or sandwich signs rooting for them, but we are just as proud of our quiet island spellers attending this weekend’s Scripps Regional Spelling Bee as we are of our athletes who compete in off-island regionals. Spelling contestants may be developing and challenging different muscles, but they, too, have put in months of sacrifice and dedication and do so, in part, to make us proud.

In a world that is increasingly about technology, the low-tech Scripps Spelling Bee is a great American tradition. This year’s regional was held at Skagit Valley College and sponsored by The Skagit Valley Herald. Contestants included the winners of their all-school bees for Skagit county, San Juan County, and the North Snohomish county.

This year, 7th grader, Uma McMurray, was the first place winner and our middle school representative, but could not attend yesterday’s regionals, leaving the leading speller from Orcas Elementary, 6th grader, Gray Gailey, representing Orcas Island School District. Kai Ross was the winning speller from the Christian School on Orcas Island, but he was also unable to attend. From neighboring Friday Harbor, 6th grader Marcia King did a fine job representing the elementary school and 8th grader Emma Mughal made it to round ten representing Friday Harbor middle school.

1950 Spelling Bee champs.

The National Spelling Bee started when nine newspapers joined together in 1925 to host the event. Little did they know that 90 years later—the only interruption was during WWII—their literacy effort would reach 11 million students every year.

Not for the feint of heart, two months ago, these students were given 13 lists of words to learn, including a page each of German, Greek, Slavic, Arabic, Latin, Spanish, French, Dutch, Japanese, Asian, Italian, New World and Old English words. According to the emcee, Heather Hernandez, President and Publisher of The Skagit Valley Herald: “Unlike the school spelling bees, regionals are a bridge between the school bee and the national bee. This competition raises the bar, extending beyond testing pure memorization and adding in a vocabulary challenge in which all kids must take a vocabulary exam, which, if they do not pass, can disqualify them.”

As the bee commenced there were alternating gasps of relief and surprise, punctuated by light laughter that broke occasional tense moments. After confidently spelling vibrato—she credits strings teacher Pamela Wright with helping on that one—6th grader Gailey dropped out after going three rounds and spelling autobahn incorrectly. By round 12 all boys were eliminated. And, in the last few rounds of the 16-round bee, three 7th graders—including last year’s regional winner, Charity Jordan—battled it out until the word ephemeral was spelled incorrectly then Jordan spelled Bolshevik correctly to earn the regional champion title again.

When asked about her thoughts on the event, Orcas Islander, Gailey, responded, “I really appreciated that the judges tried to make us less nervous on stage and it felt really great to be able to represent my school.” With a playful smile, she added, using one of this year’s vocabulary words, “And, all winners were magnanimous.”

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