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Howard Middle School Student Takes D.C. Spelling Bee

3/28/2013, 1:12 p.m.

It was winner take all for the student who would be the spelling bee champ at the 31st Annual Washington Informer Spelling Bee on March 9 at the NBC4 studios in Northwest. It came down to a nail-biting end for eighth-grader Donovan Rolle who spelled the last word, "blanquette," to be named the D.C. speller at the national competition in May. The pre-taped show will air in April.

"I feel really good," said Donovan, 13, who attends Howard University Middle School of Math and Science in Northwest. "My grandma helped this morning when she made salmon croquette and once I heard the word was French, I knew how to spell it."

Donovan received a number of prizes including four Southwest Airlines tickets, Washington Nationals tickets, courtesy of those organizations, and a check for $1,000, from the Olender Foundation, a nonprofit headed by Jack H. Olender, president of the malpractice law firm, Jack H. Olender & Associates, P.C. in Northwest. The second place winner received $500 and the two third place winners received $300 each.

"I think the spelling bee competitors are absolutely terrific," said Olender who presented the checks to the winners at a reception on March 18. "They dedicate themselves to a difficult task until they master it and win in tough competition. This helps prepare to be successful in many aspects of life - not just academics."

This was Donovan's second time winning the local bee. He took the top prize in the sixth grade, but was eliminated early at the nationals. However, the excitement of winning the competition out of 33 of the District's top spellers overwhelmed his mother, Stenise Rolle Sanders.

"I feel great. This is Donovan's day," said Rolle Sanders, 35. "I'm so proud."

To win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Donovan has a plan.

"This competition showed I have to study a lot more," he said. His sponsor and coach, Rebecca Christian, said she'll use the unabridged dictionary she won at the bee so he'll have a better chance.

"It pays off in the time and effort," she said about preparation for the bee. "It helps with their academic performance and their future." Besides this year, Christian has coached first-place winners from Howard Middle School in 2011 and 2010.

Donovan's win was the culmination of a relatively tense and long day for the spellers and their parents who showed up at the NBC4 studios early. The children boasted of backgrounds that included honor rolls, spelling bee cluster wins and science fair awards.

Justin Filar Atwood, a seventh grader from Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest, was hoping he could place higher than third - a spot he's held for the past two bee competitions.

"He studied a little more," said his mother Tracey Filar Atwood from Northwest. "They have a club at the school where they practice all the time."

This year, he tied for third place with Eric Wright, another seventh grader from Washington Latin Public Charter School in Northwest.

"He's a little disappointed but he tried his best. Part of being a good speller is keeping your calm in a pressure-filled environment. I know he's exhausted [because] he's been doing this since the fourth grade."