Bahamian spelling bee champion Roy Seligman is going into the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition grounded. While he is happy to be in the final, he is not putting any additional pressure on himself. He simply said he’s going to try to do the best he can.
“I’m not going to get too ambitious,” said Roy who participates in the finals in three days. “I’m just going to try to do the best I can.”
A field of 209 started the process to the finals, and by no means is it luck that Roy is in the hunt for the title. He put in the work. He studies words at least four hours a day on weekdays, and sometimes all day on weekends, and that includes studying different words and definitions for the vocabulary round of the bee. That in itself paid off as evidenced in his historic romp through this year’s competition, to position himself for a finals berth.
“So, I’m very happy that all of that work has paid off,” said the three-time national champion.
Actually, it’s his love of reading – murder mysteries especially, that got him enthralled with words and spelling bees in the first place. He said through reading, he learned lots of new words that he loves to research.
Roy will be among 11 contestants vying for the Scripps National Spelling Bee title on July 8 at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. He’s the lone international contestant.
“It feels surreal,” said Roy who is also the first Bahamian competitor to advance to the finals of the prestigious competition since The Bahamas began competing at Scripps in 1998. “I’m very proud to be able to represent The Bahamas. I feel very proud to have an entire country behind my back, and I’m very happy.”
With days until he takes to the stage for the in-person finals, he admits it took a while for the realization of his historic feat, that began with him making it into the semis and then advancing into the finals, to sink in.
Roy said this year’s virtual aspect – put in place because of the pandemic – also worked for him.
“The competition is much different when it’s virtual. I feel a lot less nervous than when I was on stage in 2019, because there wasn’t a crowd of people watching me spell,” he said.
For the preliminaries and semifinals, Roy was set up at his school where he had to wait to get called up for his turn via the computer. It was then that he would see the judges and they would give him his word to spell.
For the finals, they return to in-person.
“For the final stage of the competition it’s going to be much different, so I’m looking forward to experiencing that.”
Roy also knows the pressure will be on because he will face off against 10 other elite spellers, for the title of champion.
“There is certainly a bit of pressure because there’s so many intense spellers left.”
They will all be gunning for the champion prize purse, which includes a $50,000 cash prize, a commemorative medal and the Scripps Cup from the Scripps National Spelling Bee; a $2,500 cash prize and reference library from Merriam-Webster; and a $400 of reference works, including a 1768 Encyclopedia Britannica Replica Set and a three-year membership to Britannica Online Premium.
To put himself in the position to be in the running for the Scripps National Spelling Bee title, the Lyford Cay International School (LCIS) student survived three rounds during the semifinals, correctly spelling “physiolatrous” in round seven; answering the question if something is “vermivorous” that it feeds on worms in round eight, and correctly spelling “potiche” in the ninth round to advance to the finals.
Roy advanced out of round one and into the quarterfinals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of towhee. He advanced past round two after answering that student was another word for educand. In round three, he correctly spelt glottis. And he laid down the gauntlet with the correct spelling of hemiola in round four. In round five, Roy correctly answered that a blister is what one would put an unguent. In round six, Roy correctly spelt telford.
Making into the semis alone was a historic feat for the three-time Bahamas national champion.
Roy is the first Bahamian representative to advance past the first round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
He has told The Nassau Guardian in a previous interview that advancing to the highest level of the competition has been his dream since he started spelling competitively.
The three-time national spelling champion who previously competed at Scripps in 2019 and tied for 51st place, went into the Scripps competition motivated.
His dream is now reality.
After being cancelled in 2020, due to the pandemic, the Scripps National Spelling Bee returned this year with a new format designed to crown one, true champion, with spellers competing virtually in the first three rounds of competition: the preliminaries, quarterfinals (June 15) and semifinals (June 27).
On top of other pandemic-inspired modifications, Roy and other spellers also faced vocabulary questions, and if needed, a tiebreaker round.
The addition of word meaning rounds meant a new opportunity for spellers to show off their word mastery from the microphone – and the potential for a final spell-off.
While the preteen said nothing beats being in Washington, he said Scripps came up with a great alternative to allow the bee to commence this year.
To prepare for the finals, he said his main focus was studying language patterns and roots, which helps him to piece together unfamiliar words and to learn them more efficiently.
In preparation for Scripps, Roy reviewed the words of champions (4,000 list), which is where the competition begins, and he used the World Club App, a resource that provides practice with spelling definitions and word patterns.
Adam Symson, president and chief executive officer of The E.W. Scripps Company, since its beginnings nearly 100 years ago, said the Scripps National Spelling Bee and its spellers have inspired audiences across the globe with a compelling combination of academic excellence and engaging entertainment.
“Now, as the world continues to adapt to an ongoing pandemic, Scripps is committed to reimagining the beloved competition in a way that safely allows our exceptional spellers to continue this iconic tradition on the national stage.”
Scripps’ decision to limit the in-person attendance at the competition to no more than 12 spellers was made in consideration of the health and safety of participants, their families and everyone involved in the event’s production as the world continued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Spelling Bee began in 1925, when nine newspapers joined together to host a spelling bee. Little did they know that 90 years later, their literacy effort would reach 11 million students each year.
In the Scripps history, two winners have come from Caribbean countries – Hugh Tosteson Garcia from San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first winner that did not come from mainland United States, in 1975, with the correct spelling of the word incisor; and Jody-Anne Maxwell from Kingston, Jamaica, who won in 1998, with the correct spelling of the world chiaroscurist.
The youngest speller to win was Nihar Janga from Austin, Texas, in 2016, at the age of 11.
The competition was not held from 1943 to 1945 because of World War II. The 2020 competition was canceled, due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.