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National Spelling Bee champion ready to take on Washington stage

Danielle Smith says she’s excited, scared and prepared for competition at the Scripps competition
  • National Spelling Bee champion Danielle Smith.

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: May 22, 2013

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Danielle Smith captured the National Spelling Bee title on March 24 and exactly two months and two days later, the 12-year-old will depart for Washington D.C. to represent The Bahamas on the biggest Bee stage in the world — The Scripps National Spelling Bee.

With days to the start of the competition with the preliminaries to be held on Wednesday, May 29, the youngster said she has a number of emotions churning inside her right now.

“I feel three ways all in one — excited because it will be a new experience; of course scared because I don’t know how things are going to turn out; but I feel prepared as well,” she said.

Knowing that she has a lot of people praying for her and encouraging her makes all the difference to the St. John’s College eighth grade student.

“They’re all just very encouraging, and I think if I just try hard enough and put enough work into it I could actually win this,” said Danielle.

She will be one of 281 spellers from the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe as well as Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea vying for the coveted crown. The winner also receives a $30,000 cash prize and the Scripps National Spelling Bee engraved trophy from Scripps. A $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster; and $2,000 of reference works including the Britannica Global Edition, 2013 Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite DVD-ROM, and a three-year membership to Britannica Online Premium.

The champion’s school and sponsor receive engraved plaques. Championship finalists receive Encyclopedia Britannica CD/DVD software gift pack. All spellers that participate in the preliminaries only receive a $100 Visa gift card. Those that participate in the semifinals, but not in the championship finals receive $500 Visa gift card. Those misspelling in the first round of the championship finals to seventh place receive $1,500. Sixth place receives $2,000. Fifth place receives $2,500. Fourth place receives $3,000. Third place receives $7,500. Second place receives $12,500 and the unabridged version of Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary on CD-ROM.

Danielle is hoping to make it through the prelims and into the semifinals on Thursday, May 30 and then into the finals later that evening for a shot at the grand prize.

In the two months she’s had to prepare she said the laptop she won came in handy because she used it to access the Spelling Bee website, and the Merriam-Webster website to study. The dictionary she won as national champion she said was also a big help.

The eighth grade student estimates that she’s put in at least five hours daily studying for the Scripps Bee between lunch time studies with her coach, Dr. Ruby Brown, a language arts teacher, and being grilled at home by her mother Alicia Brennen; and sisters Destiny smith and Zoe Brathwaite who will accompany her to Washington, D.C.

She also admits to the last two months being a little crazy having to dedicate time to Spelling Bee studies and her regular schoolwork. Her strategy entailed getting her homework out of the way first and then dedicating time to studying for the Bee.

In a twist to this year’s competition, Danielle and her fellow Bee competitors will have to know the meanings of the words. A speller’s qualification for the semifinals and championship finals will be based on a cumulative score that incorporates onstage spelling, computer-based spelling questions and computer-based vocabulary questions.

Vocabulary evaluation will count for 50 percent of a speller’s overall score. The score determines which spellers advance to the semifinals and the championship finals on ESPN.

Danielle learned about the new vocabulary addition to the Bee via a news report.

“I was on the computer and the TV was actually on and flipped to a news station, and I heard them talking about the Spelling Bee so I looked to see what it was about and that’s when they announced there was going to be a vocabulary portion and that we have to know the definitions of words. I was kinda thrown off, but I’m getting through it and getting my definitions done,” she said.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee site has an area that spellers can visit to test themselves — Danielle says she has been making constant use of the site and has found it helpful. “But it was a good thing that I have the dictionary as well so if I have other words to look up. I could just go straight to it.”

Besides the competition itself, Danielle has a pretty full agenda in Washington. But it’s an experience that she’s looking forward to. Besides the actual competition activities include a Memorial Day Barbecue, city tours, awards banquet and farewell party.

“I’m just looking forward to having a good time because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I just want to get done over there and see Washington and just enjoy it.”

Danielle will be one of 97 spellers for whom Bee Week will mark their first visit to the United States capital.

In the short space of time before she leaves, Danielle says she still has a lot more words to learn. Since she started studying for Scripps she said she’s added a lot of new words to her vocabulary. One of her lists has at least 1,000 words on it.

As she starts packing for her adventure, Danielle says she just wants to make The Bahamas proud. And that she likes the fact that Jamaica (Jody-Anne Maxwell in 1998) has won before. Jody-Anne correctly spelled chiaroscurist. Puerto Rico’s Hugh Tosteson won in 1975 with the correct spelling of incisor.

“I think that there could be another Caribbean win,” said Danielle.

Danielle, speller number 8 will be spelling live on ESPN3 on Wednesday, May 29 at 8 a.m. (Round 2) and 1 p.m. (Round 3) when spellers 1 to 140 will be spelling.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been held since 1925.


• Speller 94, Tara Singh, of Louisville, Kentucky will be the youngest speller in this year’s competition at age 8.

• The spellers range in age from 8 to 14-years-old, but 89 percent are between the ages of 12 and 14-years-old.

• Two spellers, speller 91, Vanya Shivashankar and speller 191, Ashwin Veeramani, have siblings who have previously won the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

• Of the spellers, 116 speak more than one language.

• This year’s group of competitors is 52 percent girls and 48 percent boys.


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