Roy Seligman has made history. He is the first Bahamian representative to advance past the first round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The 12-year-old is one of 30 who will compete in the semifinals scheduled for June 27, and gunning to be among the top 10 to 12 hoping to advance to the in-person finals on July 8 at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.
Roy, a seventh-grade student at Lyford Cay International School (LCIS), is also the lone international contestant in the semis. The original field of 209 was whittled down to 30 during the quarterfinals on Tuesday, June 15.
He is among 11 males in the semis; 19 are female.
After surviving six rounds in the quarterfinals, Roy said to an LCIS school official that his advancing into the semis felt “surreal”.
“I feel grateful, proud and a bit relieved. Advancing to the highest levels of the competition has been my dream since I started spelling competitively. I am proud that I have been able to do that well, and show the world what we can do. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to represent The Bahamas again, and want to do that to the best of my ability,” said the three-time national champion.
Roy advanced out of round one and into the quarterfinals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of towhee – a towhee is one of a number of species of birds in the genus Piplio or Melozone within the family Passerellidae.
He was one of 138 spellers advancing out of the opening round, which saw 71 spellers eliminated.
Roy advanced past round two after answering that student was another word for educand. He was among 110 spellers advancing, with 28 spellers eliminated.
In round three, he correctly spelt glottis (which is the opening between the vocal folds in the larynx that is generally thought of as the primary valve between the lungs and the mouth) and was among 75 spellers advancing; 35 were eliminated.
He laid down the gauntlet with the correct spelling of hemiola (a rhythmic pattern of syncopated beats with two beats in a time of three or three beats in the time of two) in round four and was among 58 spellers advancing; 17 were eliminated.
In round five, Roy correctly answered that a blister is what one would put an unguent (soothing or healing salve) on. He was among 42 spellers advancing; 16 were eliminated.
In round six, Roy correctly spelt telford (noting a form of road pavement composed of compacted and rolled stones of various sizes) to be among 30 spellers advancing; 12 were eliminated.
“One of my mottos is that good luck favors the well-prepared. I was lucky that all of the words that I received in the competition so far were among the tens of thousands that I have studied. Musical words are challenging for me, so I made a special effort to focus on them and I was glad I did when ‘hemiola’ was called.”
Competition returned on June 12 with a new format designed to crown one, true champion, after cancellation in 2020, due to the COVID pandemic, with spellers competing virtually in the first three rounds of competition: the preliminaries, quarterfinals (June 15) and semifinals.
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.
The three-time national spelling champion who previously competed at Scripps in 2019 and tied for 51st place, went into the Scripps competition motivated.
While the pre-teen said nothing beats being in Washington, he said Scripps came up with a great alternative to allow the bee to commence this year.
“Online spelling is every bit as exciting and nerve-wracking as on-stage spelling,” said Roy. [And] the organization has been excellent so far, and everything has run smoothly.”
Roy has an intensive study schedule set in the week leading up to the semis, and every intention of ramping it up even higher.
“My main focus is on studying language patterns and roots. This helps me to piece together unfamiliar words and to learn them more efficiently. I study and review thousands of words every day using spreadsheets and online tools.”
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.
Katina Seymour, Roy’s coach, previously told The Nassau Guardian that Roy spent an average of three hours studying on school days, rising early to accommodate the extra time, and up to five hours studying on weekends and holidays.
For his reading pleasure and exposure to new words, Roy also read mystery novels by author Agatha Christie.
Roy is hoping to be among the 10 to 12 finalists who will travel to the Orlando area having earned the right to compete in the finals by advancing through three levels of competition – the preliminary, quarterfinal and semifinal segments. In past years, those three rounds were held over one week – Bee Week. This year, due to the pandemic, the preliminaries, quarterfinals and semifinals were held virtually in the weeks leading up to the July 8 finals and will be broadcast live on ESPN platforms.
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 in-person portion of the competition moves to a new stage this year, at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando’s Disney World Resort, and will follow protocols based on guidance from health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for social distancing and masking.
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.