Canfield’s Max Lee is ready prime time spelling

By Denise Dick


With two regional championships and one appearance at the Scripps National Spelling Bee already under his belt, Max Lee is ready for prime time.

By studying four to five hours per day, Max, 13, says he’s ready for his second appearance at the national event this week.

“I’ve been learning some language rules,” said the Canfield Village Middle School eighth-grader. “In French, the ‘sh’ sound is [spelled] ‘ch.’”

Sometimes his father, a doctor, brings home medical terms for Max to spell. He usually gets those right, too.

“I just guess,” he said.

Max, the son of Tac and Linglan Liu Lee, makes his second appearance at the national bee, a berth he earned last March by winning The Vindicator 80th Regional Spelling Bee, besting 59 other spellers from Mahoning County and parts of Trumbull County and Pennsylvania. He won The Vindicator 79th Regional Bee as well and finished second the previous year.

Preliminary rounds in the national bee in Washington, D.C., begin Tuesday before early rounds Wednesday, which may be seen on ESPN3. Semifinals Thursday will be broadcast on ESPN2 from 2 to 5 p.m. with finals from 8 to 10 p.m. on ESPN.

The Vindicator is underwriting the trip for Max and one of his parents.

Max is one of 281 spellers from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe; as well as the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea, according to the bee’s website. The age range is 8 to 14, but most spellers are between 12 and 14.

There’s a twist this year in the early, written rounds. Besides spelling words, contestants must demonstrate that they know definitions in a multiple-choice vocabulary section.

After being eliminated last year in the fifth round when he misspelled “resveratrol,” Max stuck around to watch the rest of the bee. He noticed that the winner took more time to spell the words than he did, thinking about each word longer before beginning to spell. It’s a strategy he may employ this time as he tries to go further in the bee.

When Max isn’t spelling, he enjoys math, playing piano and tennis. Spelling, though, is his favorite thing.

He got interested in it in fourth grade when he watched the national bee on television.

“It was something that looked interesting,” and he decided then he wanted to do it. He followed bees in The Vindicator until he could compete in one at his school.

Because he’s an eighth-grader, this will be the last year Max can compete. He says he’ll miss it.

Joe Maroni, principal of Canfield Village Middle School, has nothing but good reports about the star speller.

“He’s an outstanding student and a great kid,” he said. “He’s hard working and extremely intelligent, a nice kid to have in your school.”

Despite Max’s quiet demeanor, Maroni said that when the spelling whiz is around his friends and people his own age, he’s outgoing.

In fact, Max said his favorite part of last year’s bee was being onstage.

“When I’ve seen him around other kids, he’s very funny and outgoing,” Maroni said. “He’s more open when he’s around people his own age.”

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