The sweet spell of success

Every year, thousands of students across the state of Minnesota take part in spelling bee competitions, at their schools and at other various venues.

In February, Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative of Marshall sponsored a fifth- through eighth-grade Regional Spelling Bee at the Redwood Area Community Center in Redwood Falls. A total of 28 students competed through a written test and three preliminary oral rounds, said Sue Gorecki, Service Cooperative student activities coordinator.

“After those scores were added together, 17 students participated in the spell-down,” Gorecki said. “The top four winners then advanced to the Multi-Region State Spelling Bee on February 25 in Fergus Falls.”

Murray County Central seventh-grader Alyssa Boynton took first place at the competition, followed by Yellow Medicine East’s Asa Ulferts (second), Dawson-Boyd’s Cadence Dove (third) and Marshall’s Michaela Bosveld (fourth). Marshall’s Daniel Bauer was chosen as an alternate.

It took 20 rounds and nearly 400 words, but Boynton was also able to come out on top of the competition at the Multi-Region State Spelling Bee, which was sponsored by SW/WC Service Cooperative (Marshall), Lakes Country Service Cooperative (Fergus Falls), Northeast Service Cooperative (Mountain Iron), Northwest Service Cooperative (Thief River Falls) and Resource Training and Solutions (St. Cloud).

“I was really excited,” Boynton said after winning the state bee. “I had to stop myself from jumping up and down.”

Boynton correctly spelled paraphrastic, which means to translate an author’s meaning more clearly, after Crookston High School’s Yash Kapoor misspelled “raclette,” a French word meaning a dish of Swiss origin consisting of melted cheese.

“It started getting nerve-wracking with eight people left,” Boynton said. “We went through a bunch of rounds. It was three people for awhile and then I went one round with the runner-up.”

Boynton then had to spell a second word correctly in order to be crowned the champion.

“‘ Teleology,’ meaning the use of design as an explanation of any natural phenomenon, posed no problem, and Alyssa was declared the champion,” Gorecki said. “It was evident that Alyssa had studied as she breezed through such words as mizzle, alim, jnana, apparatchik and voortrekker.”

With the first-place finish, Boynton earned the right to represent the five Minnesota Service Cooperatives at the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

“I am so excited,” she said. “I have never been to Washington before.”

Along with the trip, Boynton also acquired the honor of being the first student from MCC to qualify for the national competition.

“It was truly a fantastic day at Fergus Falls for the Multi-Regional State Spelling Bee,” said Mark Schleisman, spelling bee coordinator at MCC. “Alyssa had competed there last year as a sixth-grader and finished fourth overall. So, I knew that with more effort, a good attitude, poise, confidence and a healthy day, she had a super chance of being the champion. Lo and behold, she did it.”

Schleisman said that MCC had “numerous regional winners/top four finishers who have competed at state,” but none who earned top honors before.

“Heidi Bau, MCC junior, was second as an eighth-grader, but Alyssa is the first national qualifier,” he said. “I was so very proud of her, and her mother, who has spent hours with her studying, studying, studying for this opportunity.”

Studying isn’t always fun, but it is usually necessary to be successful at spelling bees, Boynton said.

“They gave out Spell-It lists, like they do every year from the company that does the spelling bee, and I study those,” Boynton said. “I also make lists from the dictionary and study those, too. After you study for a long time, it gets boring.”

Boynton noted that the Spell-It list included 2,300 words.

“It helps if you ask for the language of origin,” she said. “At the beginning, I learned the meaning of words, too, but when the bee gets close, I just study the words.”

Boynton and other national qualifiers will have two more months to study for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held May 25-31.

“Now I have to learn the meaning of words because they have a round with just the meanings,” Boynton said. “Last year, there were 281 kids at the national bee, so I’ll definitely have to keep learning words from the dictionary. I have to learn the definitions, and I have to learn more of the rules of the languages.”

Competition at the national bee is pretty rigorous, Boynton said. Participants compete in three orals rounds in addition to a definition round in the preliminaries, some of which is on the computer.

“They’ll combine all those to cut people down,” Boynton said.

Participants are also restricted from writing down any of the words in the oral rounds, which fortunately shouldn’t shake Boynton’s confidence anyway.

“You can’t write anything down at state or nationals either,” Boynton said. “But I typically spell the word out loud. It doesn’t really bother me because I’m not one that usually writes it down. I can see it in my head pretty well. So I’ll just keep studying and do my best.”