In what's become a rite of passage for many school-aged children in the District, the local spelling bee identified 32 of the city's top spellers who will move to the next level – the regional competition. This leads to the national finals in Prince George's County, Md.
Young spellers like Gregory Jones and Linnea Byrne-Kvalsvik who spelled words like gorgeous and formidable, will seek bragging rights to be named the country's top speller in the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md., from May 26 to June 1.
"I'm excited and glad, even though I was a little scared," said Gregory, 10, a 5th grader from Shepherd Elementary School in Northwest, who won second place on Feb. 11. "But once I started spelling, the words came to me." His mother was "extremely proud of him."
"He made it to the regional spelling bee in the 4th grade," said Patrice Jones, who lives in Northwest. "We were talking about how this was an improvement."
Linnea, a 4th grader from Lafayette Elementary School in Northwest, is a "big reader," said her father Erik Kvalsvik. She snagged first place among her public school peers.
In a rigorous two-day competition, the city sought its top spellers among D.C. Public School's 4th through 8th graders on Feb. 11, and spellers in private, charter, parochial and home schools the following day.
Donovan Rolle, an 8th grader at Howard University School of Math and Science in Northwest, gave his mother, Stenise Rolle Sanders, her best birthday gift on Feb. 12 when he spelled his way to first place after a close round with Samuel Joyce, an 8th grader from Holy Trinity School in Northwest.
"My husband usually helps him prepare," said Rolle Sanders, 35. "He stays on top of him." This go-around was his second, she said.
These four top spellers and 28 other winners, who participated in The Washington Informer's Scripps National Spelling Bee, will meet other top spellers from the metropolitan area at NBC4's studios in Northwest on March 9. The top two champions will then advance to the National Spelling Bee.
Overall, the children's performance in the public, and private and charter schools seemed equitable, said pronouncer, Elizabeth Primas, who's been involved in the spelling bee since 2004. She is the director for literacy at Friendship Public Charter School since June, after more than 33 years with District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).
"Kids are still spelling like they did [years ago]," said Primas. "They've been doing phenomenal jobs." The afternoon session with DCPS spellers ended after more than 62 rounds. "I do see fewer schools participating, but kids are still spelling at high levels."
Since the early 1980s, The Washington Informer sponsored the local spelling bee after the weekly newspaper overcame obstacles preventing it from becoming a sponsor. Initially, dailies sponsored the spelling bee. After the original sponsor went out of business, the District's spelling bee was without one for more than 14 years; although national and international spellers continued to visit for the annual competition.
After the Washington Post turned down the opportunity, The Informer's founder and publisher Dr. Calvin W. Rolark was approached and he agreed to become the sponsor.
The first Informer-sponsored spelling bee was 31 years ago at Bertie Backus Junior High School. However, since the competition wasn't sponsored by a daily newspaper, the District's winner wasn't allowed to compete at the nationals. Since the paper was the only black newspaper sponsoring a spelling bee, Rolark surmised that racial discrimination may have been behind it. He and his wife, attorney and D.C. Council member, Wilhelmina J. Rolark, threatened to file an injunction blocking Scripps from holding the bee in the District until it allowed weeklies to become sponsors.
Each year, about 2,000 children from nearly 200 public, private, charter, parochial and home schools participate in the spelling bee.
Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, Rolark's daughter, said her late father would be 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 Informer sponsorship of the bee was important to him because the District had been out of the national competition for nearly 20 years," Rolark Barnes said. "My dad believed that education was fundamental to the success of young people and spelling is critical to that success. Our newspaper is proud to be associated with the education of our local children who truly are our future."