Top spellers off to Scripps

Veteran Roy Seligman and Maria Del Carmen Sanchez compete at prestigious competition tomorrow

Four-time Bahamas National Spelling Bee (BNSB) champion Roy Seligman and second-place BNSB competitor Maria Del Carmen Sanchez begin their quest for the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee, in Washington, D.C., tomorrow, with competition getting underway with the preliminaries.

Roy, 13, an eighth-grade student at Lyford Cay International School, is speller number 222. He is going into the competition with vast experience, having previously competed in 2019 tied for 51st place and 2021 tied for fourth place.

Maria, 13, a seventh-grade student at St. Andrew’s International School, is speller number 219.

The Bahamian delegation left New Providence on Sunday. The 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee competition will take place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

While the preliminaries get underway at 10:40 a.m., Roy and Maria are scheduled to compete between 5:55 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. which is the time slot for spellers 201-plus. There are 234 spellers in this year’s first fully in-person bee since 2019.

Competition runs through to June 2 with quarterfinals on June 1 between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. for spellers who make it through.

Roy and Maria are hoping to be among spellers advancing through to the Wednesday semifinals and compete between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. The semifinals will air live-to-tape. The live final is scheduled for Thursday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Both semis and finals will be televised on ION and Bounce and hosted by actor, director, educator, and lifelong children’s literacy advocate LeVar Burton.

The Bahamian representatives will also find that Scripps is carrying forward two competition elements from 2021 – word meaning round and the spell-off option.

“We know from speller feedback that both the word meaning component and the spell-off option were exciting additions to the competition in 2021, so we’re bringing them back and letting these spellers flex skills, such as understanding word meanings and rapid-fire spelling, that they practice all year long,” said Dr. J. Michael Durnil, executive director of the bee.

Introduced in 2021 to challenge spellers in a new way and enhance the competition’s focus on literacy, word meaning is an oral vocabulary component that will again appear in the second round of each level of the competition – the preliminaries, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. The speller will be required to orally select the correct multiple-choice answer to a word meaning question read by the pronouncer. The speller will have 30 seconds to view the question and the three answer choices. The speller must choose the best answer within the time limit to move on to the next round of competition. All other rounds of the competition will consist of traditional oral spelling.

The bee will also have the option to declare a spell-off this year. The spell-off was introduced in 2021 but was not activated because the competition, in its closing minutes, had entered a final round with eventual champion Zaila Avant-garde.

This year, the judges will have sole discretion to initiate a spell-off to end the finals – the spell-off will not be tied to a specific minute mark as in 2021. Each speller remaining in the competition will have 90 seconds to spell words from a spell-off word list prepared in advance by the bee. The same words will be delivered in the same order to each speller in the spell-off, and spellers not competing will be sequestered. The speller who will spell the highest number of words correctly during their 90-second turn will be declared champion. If two or more spellers earned the same top score during the spell-off, the officials will attempt to break the tie by determining the speller with the highest percentage of words spelled correctly out of words attempted.

Eight countries are represented at the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee. In addition to The Bahamas and the United States, there are also spellers from Canada, Germany, Ghana, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Qualifiers range in age from seven to 15, and 45 of them, including Roy, have previously competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Twenty-three of this year’s spellers have relatives who have participated in a combined 46 Scripps National Spelling Bees. Four were finalists in 2021, including three who tied for fourth place; Roy was in the four-way tie.

There are 105 female spellers this year and 128 male spellers, with one non-binary speller.

Four 2021 finalists won their regional competitions to advance to the 2022 national qualifying rounds: Roy; Dhroov Bharatia and Vivinsha Veduru (who both tied for fourth with Roy); and Vihaan Sibal, who tied for seventh.

Roy is also considered a veteran, competing for the third year with six other competitors. There is also one fifth-year veteran competitor and two fourth-year competitors.

The champion will receive a $50,000 cash prize.

Durnil said the 2022 competitors represent a diverse group of dedicated, hardworking and perseverant students.

“As they prepare for their moment at the microphone, the bee is working to make the whole week an unforgettable experience for them – both on and offstage,” said Durnil. “This year, our spellers will participate in brand-new Bee Week opportunities that ignite their curiosity and help them connect with the world around them – central pieces of the bee’s commitment to illuminate pathways to lifelong learning. We hope to make it a once-in-a-lifetime moment for every student who attends.”

Roy and Maria along with other spellers will have the chance to participate in experiences ranging from activities that inspire fun and relaxation outside of the competition to workshops focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and the arts. The week will include a group mural painting opportunity, Minecraft coding academy, coding virtual reality camp, creative writing workshop, D.C.-area tours and a book-based team challenge in partnership with the Scripps Howard Foundation.

This year’s competition marks a return to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside of Washington, D.C. The bee was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was held in a mostly virtual format in 2021. The 2021 finals, which featured 11 spellers, were held in person at ESPN Wide World of Sports near Orlando to facilitate pandemic-related safety protocols. Zaila Avant-garde was the 2021 champion, becoming the first Black American to win the bee.

For the first time in bee history, the competition will air exclusively on ION and Bounce, which are part of Scripps’ portfolio of free, over-the-air national networks.

“With its new television home, the bee will reach into more than 120 million households and we hope it will inspire new generations of students watching along,” said Durnil.

As the Bahamian competitors head into competition, a fun fact Roy shares is that he is a beast with a Rubik’s cube, and is keen on memorizing algorithims and using speed to twist and turn the layers in seconds. He said this helps to strengthen his resolve and helps him work well under pressure. Roy’s coach, Katina Seymour, will travel with him.

Maria’s fun fact is that she enjoys island-related activities – going to the beach with her family and friends, watching the sun as it rises and sets, and just exploring the island. She will attend with her coach Michelle Sanchez.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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