Coralee LaRue buzzes back from Scripps National Spelling Bee

Ralph Stewart

Tisbury School sixth-grader Coralee LaRue summed up her recent experience in the Scripps National Spelling Bee as “really great” in a phone interview with The Times last week.

Coralee, age 11, won the Annual Martha’s Vineyard Schools Spelling Bee held at the regional high school on March 23. As one of her prizes, the Martha’s Vineyard Times, which sponsors the event, underwrote the trip for her and her mother, Susan Wade of Tisbury, to attend the national spelling bee.

“Bee Week” ran from May 29 through June 3. The spelling bee competition began with preliminaries on May 29 and culminated in the championship finals on May 31.

More than 11 million students participated in spelling bees in the U.S. and other countries around the world. This year’s national Bee included 278 spellers and was held at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center on the Potomac River, near Washington, D.C.

“It was my first time on a plane,” Coralee said. “I didn’t get any wings, though.”

All spellers took a computer spelling test on May 29 for round one of the competition. The contestants had to spell 50 words, but only 25 of them counted towards each speller’s preliminary score.

“They didn’t tell you which ones those were,” Coralee said. “I think I got a little less than half right, but I still didn’t make it to the semi-finals.”

The round one test included challenging words such as andragogy, chitarrone, ejido, and quelea.

“They gave you a couple of lists of words to study for the preliminary rounds onstage, but they didn’t give you any words for the round one test,” Coralee said. “You just had to study the dictionary, and there’s like 3,000 pages.”

The spellers went on stage to spell in both rounds two and three. The results of those rounds were combined with the round one test scores to determine the semifinalists.

Coralee, speller number 115, buzzed through round two on May 30 by correctly spelling the word “inviolable.” She got stung in the third round, however, by the word “pochade.” Misspelling it eliminated her from the semi-finals. Coralee later found out that her classmates at Tisbury School watched her performance online via a live ESPN broadcast. She was surprised and delighted to see that a photo of her taken at the Bee was posted online on the BBC News website’s “Day in Pictures: 31 May 2012” feature.

Coralee said she didn’t feel nervous while on stage. “I was really surprised, because I thought it would be different,” she said. “It was not as tense as I thought it would be, because we had breaks in between the spelling.”

“The Bee experience was wonderful,” Ms. Wade said in an email to The Times. “The Scripps staff are very efficient and have a light touch. They really want all the spellers to do well.”

Coralee said she was impressed by how good the spellers were and how much time they put into studying.

Snigdha Nandipati, age 14, an eighth-grader from San Diego, Calif., won the bee by spelling the word “guetapens,” a French-derived word that means an ambush, snare, or trap.

“This competition is not for sissies,” Ms. Wade noted in her email. “Some children study like it’s a full-time job with overtime.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for Coralee to be with like-minded students who really take their spelling seriously. We also learned a lot about how much it takes to be a finalist and hopefully a winner.”

“The winner said she studied six hours a day, and then on weekends, like 12 hours day,” Coralee said. “She had to get up at five [am] to study.”

Bee Week also included some social activities, such as a barbeque, and a sightseeing tour of Washington D.C., with stops at some of the monuments.

When asked what she enjoyed most, Coralee said, “I liked meeting the other spellers.”

Ms. Wade said it was fun for both of them to talk with families of many geogrpahic and ethnic backgrounds. “All in all it was fabulous,” she said. “Coralee was disappointed to not make it as one of the 50 semi-finalists, but she had a fantastic experience.”

When asked about her other interests besides spelling, Coralee said she likes to be active and takes dance classes, plays soccer, and belongs to a school writing club. She is also a Girl Scout in Troop #80827. Coralee will attend Falmouth Academy next year.