By Denise Dick
They can spell words that many people twice their age likely have never heard of and can recite the definitions and word origins, too.
Sixty-eight elementary, middle and junior high school students face off Saturday in the 78th annual Vindicator Regional Spelling Bee at Youngstown State University.
The bee, a community tradition since 1934, kicks off at 9 a.m. in the Chestnut Room at Kilcawley Center.
This year’s bee includes 33 boys and 35 girls from schools throughout the Mahoning Valley. Most of the contestants, 62, will be spelling at the regional competition for the first time. For three, Saturday’s bee marks their second showing while three others are making at least their third appearance.
This marks Megan Winters’ fourth regional bee, but the West Branch Middle School seventh-grader isn’t sure what makes her such a good speller.
“I like to read a lot and I like to write a lot,” she said. “I guess maybe that increases my vocabulary.”
Megan, a daughter of Edwin and Mary Winters, likes to read realistic fiction and mystery and picks the “Hunger Games” series as one of her favorites. She also participates in the Power of the Pen writing contest.
“Sometimes it helps to spell it out on your hand,” Megan offered. “Then you picture it in your mind and try to spell it.”
It also helps to know word origins because different languages spell sounds with different letters, she said.
“One time I got ‘quiche’ and the origin is French,” Megan said. “In French, the K sound is spelled with a Q and I got it right.”
When Megan isn’t reading, writing or spelling, she’s active in 4-H with horse, sewing and engineering projects. She’s also a duct-tape fanatic.
Megan was involved in a group that worked with duct tape, and she made a knee-length skirt out of the material that she still wears for Halloween.
“All of my books have duct-tape book covers,” she said.
For John Martin, 12, a sixth-grader at Western Reserve Middle School, Saturday will mark his second bee. He competed last in 2009.
John, a son of Vince and Cindy Martin, said he doesn’t really practice for spelling but sometimes he reads — which he thinks may help.
“I like medieval stuff with knights and dragons,” John said.
When the pronouncer gives John a word, he tries to visualize it.
“I just picture it, and if I don’t know the word, I just usually make a reasonable guess,” he said.
Last time, he went out on his second word. This year, he hopes to do better.
“I want to try to get to my third word to see if I can beat my record,” John said.
Spelling runs in his family. His older brother competed in the bee in 2003 and in 2007.
When John isn’t reading or spelling, he plays piano, enjoying both classical and rock selections.
This mark’s Robert Huggins’ second regional spelling bee. Robert, 11, and a fifth-grader at Legacy Academy for Leaders and the Arts, competed in last year’s event.
He is a son of Carla Faison and Robert Huggins and enjoys basketball, video games and crafts when he isn’t spelling.
Robert is shy, but his mother believes it’s Robert’s enthusiasm that makes him such a good speller.
“He usually writes it down, reads it and spells it,” Faison said of her son’s bee preparation with the spelling list.
She also quizzes him nightly on the words and says he’s doing pretty well.
Lauren Ritz, 13, last year’s runner-up, is among the returning contenders. She says she’s ready for her second bee appearance and has been studying for “probably about a month, when I won my school’s spelling bee.”
Lauren of New Castle, Pa., is a seventh-grader at Willow Creek Learning Center in Poland and the daughter of Lisa and Stephen Ritz.
The winner of The Vindicator bee will receive an all-expense-paid trip including hotel, travel accommodations, tours, meals and incidental expenses, to Washington, D.C. for him or herself and an adult. The trip is underwritten by The Vindicator. The winner will compete in the 84th Scripps National Spelling Bee the week of May 29 through June 4.
The winner also will get a first-place trophy from The Vindicator and a special grand-champion certificate; a $100 U.S. savings bond from the Rotary Club of Youngstown, a $150 Barnes and Noble gift card from the downtown Kiwanis Club, “These Hundred Years — A Chronicle of the Twentieth Century,” compliments of The Vindicator; the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a $100 U.S. savings bond from Jay Sugarman in honor of his father; Webster’s Third New International Dictionary from Merriam-Webster, which includes a one-year subscription to Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged online edition; a one-year subscription for a Britannica Online Student Edition from Encyclopedia Britannica; a floral arrangement provided by Burkland Flowers of Youngstown; and two ticket vouchers to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus on March 25-27 at the Covelli Centre.