Washington Informer Spelling Bee Reaches 30 Year Mark

Barrington M. Salmon | 3/8/2012, 2:41 p.m.

In 1998, 12-year-old Jamaican competitor Jodi Ann Maxwell won the Spelling Bee, becoming the first foreigner and black to win the prestigious event. She returned to Jamaica a national heroine and she excited the national passions of Jamaicans across the Diaspora.

Rolark Barnes said now that the city has so many educational options for its children, it's fun to watch public school, private school, charter school, independent and home-schooled children jostle for supremacy.

"We didn't participate for 17 years and a lot happened in that time. The makeup of the student population changed," she said.

The national Spelling Bee has never had a large number of African-American finalists and Rolark Barnes said she is pleased to have been able to add to the number of black children who participate over the years.

"It would have been nice to have a national winner [from the District] but the overall experience was more important. Having the children come here and enjoy an all-expense paid week at a hotel and visit tourist attractions, that was important to my father," she said.

This year's Spelling Bee sponsors, who have contributed cash and prizes are: NBC4; DCPS; McDonald's; the Washington Nationals; Pepco; the Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education, Inc (FAME); Champion Trophies; Jack H. Olender & Associates; Microsoft; Nielsen; Giant; Young Designs; Coca-Cola; McMillon Communications and Southwest Airlines