Two students from Oyster-Adams Bilingual School won the top spots in the 30th Annual Washington Informer spelling Bee. Armed with their daunting arsenals of words and spelling skills, they claimed the first and second prizes and a chance to represent the District of Columbia in the National Scripps Spelling Bee in May.
Tuli Bennett-Bose, a seventh grader, and Noa Rosinplotz, a fifth grader, won first and second place, respectively. Tuli, a familiar face because she won second place at The Washington Informer Spelling Bee last year, will go on to compete in the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National, in Oxon Hill, Md., on May 31, 2012.
Despite all of her etymological prowess, Tuli, the veteran spelling bee champion, who said she practiced "over and over again," didn't expect to win.
"I didn't expect to know the last word," Tuli said. "I was really nervous."
Tuli's winning word was "epistolary" and spelling it correctly allowed her to walk away with a cash prize of $1,000 and other prizes. Meanwhile, Noa, a star wordsmith in her own right, nabbed the second-place trophy and a $500 cash prize.
Taped before a live studio audience of family, friends and supporters on March 10, the bee was held at NBC4 studios in Northwest D.C. The Washington Informer Spelling Bee is set to air locally Easter Sunday, April 8, at 2 p.m. News anchors Aaron Gilchrest and Angie Goff co-hosted the event.
One of those spelling bee supporters in attendance was D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson who said she was "beaming" and excited for Tuli, Noa, Oyster Adams, the parents and D.C. Public Schools.
"People underestimate us and I think this goes to show that our students are at least better spellers than anybody else," Henderson said. "Activities like the Spelling Bee help us to reinforce for our young people a set of high expectations. The competition they are going to face out there in the world...we actually show them we support them and they can be excellent and I think these young people did a tremendous job today. We have a stage full of winners. People underestimate D.C. Public School students and don't think we can achieve or perform at these high levels. Showcases like this show the city, the country, the world that DCPS can produce excellent students."
Although The Washington Informer reached a milestone by sponsoring the spelling bee for the last 30 years, it almost never happened.
Before 1981, the now defunct daily tabloid, The Washington Daily News, owned by the E.W. Scripps Company, sponsored the spelling bee annually. The Daily News merged with the Washington Star, but the Star went out of business. This left the spelling bee without its sponsor--a mandated daily newspaper-- for more than 14 years. Meanwhile spellers from around the world continued to come to the District to participate in Scripps' famous annual championship event. All 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Canada participated in the spelling bee. Spellers even came from parts of Europe, the Asia-Pacific, and Africa. But with no daily newspaper sponsor, the District of Columbia was left out in the cold.
After The Washington Post turned down the opportunity to sponsor the event, Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, the founder and publisher of The Washington Informer, was approached and agreed to sponsor the citywide spelling bee. The first Washington Informer sponsored spelling bee was held in 1982 at Bertie Backus Junior High School. Because The Informer, however, was not a daily newspaper, the city's spelling bee winner was not permitted to compete at the national competition. The District found itself effectively still blocked out of completion.
With The Washington Informer being the only black newspaper sponsoring a spelling bee, Rolark felt something else was going on —racial discrimination. He and his wife, attorney and city council member, Wilhelmina J. Rolark, threatened to file an injunction blocking Scripps from holding the spelling bee in the District of Columbia until Scripps decided to allow weekly newspapers to be spelling bee sponsors. The Informer took the sponsorship mantle.
Denise Rolark Barnes, The Washington Informer publisher and Rolark's daughter, said her late father would be happy and pleased to know the newspaper he started is continuing to sponsor the spelling bee.
"If my dad were here, he would be overjoyed that The Washington Informer is continuing a tradition that he started—the tradition of sponsoring the annual spelling bee," Rolark Barnes said. "He believed that education was fundamental to the growth and success of young people, this city, the nation and the world. Our newspaper is proud to be associated with the education of our local children who truly are our future."
Rolark Barnes underscored that corporate sponsors are a significant part of The Washington Informer Spelling bee. This year's sponsors who have contributed cash and prizes include: NBC4, DCPS, McDonald's, the Washington Nationals, Pepco, the Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education (FAME), Champion Trophies, Jack H. Olender & Associates, Microsoft, Nielsen, Giant, Young Designs, The Coca-Cola Company, McMillon Communications and Southwest Airlines
Nielsen's Director of Public Affairs Courtney Jones, said "all companies should be invested" in the future and encouraging students to be voracious readers" while studying the English language, foreign languages and embracing learning opportunities.
"We will continue to support initiatives such as The Washington Informer Spelling Bee. We do a lot of support with science technology, engineering and math and something like the spelling bee--when students are encouraged to read and understand language--that is a building block for success in their future endeavor. Being a good speller and being someone who avidly reads--that's the foundation and the building blocks for whatever you want to do."