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Regional spelling bee bound for L-O-U-I-S-V-I-L-L-E this weekend

A microphone.
Matthias Wagner
The winner of this weekend's regional bee in Louisville will go on to compete in the national bee in May.

Students from north-central Kentucky and Southern Indiana converge in Louisville this weekend for a chance to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Fifteen elementary and middle school students from a 28-county region are ready to take the mic at the Scripps Regional Spelling Bee.

The Louisville Free Public Library’s Main Branch is hosting its first competition.

“We were cold-called by someone from Scripps, who [is] based in Cincinnati, and she was determined that she was going to find someone to host the Louisville regional,” said Lee Burchfield, Louisville Free Public Library director.

Burchfield said the library was instantly buzzing with excitement.

“It's just such an endearing, charming, fun piece of Americana, that we are able to be a part of,” Burchfield said.

The next step was identifying the winners from schools in the region. Schools register their winning students with Scripps. The library is responsible for getting the space, judges, a pronouncer and other logistics.

Burchfield said Scripps provided the library with a top-secret list of words and rules for the competition.

The winner of the Louisville Regional Scripps Spelling Bee will go on to compete in the national bee in Washington, D.C. this May. Burchfield said the Louisville Free Public Library Foundation plans to help cover the cost of airfare and lodging for the winner and a guardian to help get them there.

Now all that’s left is the bee itself.

Fourteen-year-old Madison Baucco won the school-wide bee at Holy Trinity, where she’s an eighth-grader.

“It was kind of a surprise to win the class spelling bee because I know that there's a lot of other good spellers in my class,” Baucco said. “But winning the overall school spelling bee was really exciting. And it was like a major accomplishment for me.”

Baucco said being a speller isn’t just about memorization.

“You have to have a good vocabulary not just be good at spelling because to know the word that you’re spelling helps to know where it comes from, what it means, it helps a lot to spell it,” Baucco said.

She’s an avid reader and said it’s also key to her success.

Zachary Rara, a 13-year-old Meyzeek student who’ll compete against Baucco, agreed.

“I read a lot of books,” Rara said. “That's how I really upgrade my vocabulary.”

Burchfield, the library director, said that shared literacy adds up.

“It just makes sense to me that kids who love to read would also enjoy learning new words, and that kids who like to learn new words and learn to spell would also just naturally be drawn to books,” Burchfield said.

Both Baucco and Rara have been studying using Scripps materials ahead of the regional bee.

“I have a really good memory, if I look at something once, then it's just engraved in my brain,” Baucco said. “So I'm just gonna give all the words, like look at them once and then spell them once, but there's like 600 words. So it's gonna take a while, but I think it'll be worth it.”

Both Rara and Baucco said when they approach a word, they like to break it down into smaller chunks and then spell it out section by section.

Rara also employs a strategy that helps him spell and get his nerves out.

“I write it, I pretty much write it on my palm while imagining it,” Rara explained.

Both Baucco and Rara said they hope they can make their schools proud. They also have some advice to share.

“I would say spelling isn't just like spelling the word. It's knowing the word. So if you just like words, if you have a passion for writing or words, you can also get into spelling pretty easily,” Baucco said.

Rara said it is important that children are intrinsically motivated to start spelling.

“You want to have them also read a lot of books and expand their vocabulary from a young age, because that's really what helped me,” Rara said. “If you just have them do that, from a young age, they'll already have a very high chance to become the next national champion.”

The regional bee is Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Main Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. It is free and open to the public.

News Arts and CultureYouth Reporting
Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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