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Bloomington fifth grader wins IU Bee for second year in a row


Yena Park, 10, wins the IU Bee on Saturday in the Monroe County Public Library after spelling the word "corollary" correctly. Park is a fifth grader at University Elementary School in Bloomington and will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Ty Vinson

Most people probably don’t know the definition of the word corollary, let alone know how to spell it correctly on the first try. But for Yena Park, 10, spelling came naturally for her at the end of the ninth annual IU Bee on Saturday. She knows what she’s doing, she’s been here before. 

Park is a fifth grader at University Elementary School and is the bee's winner for the second year in a row. Last year after winning, she made it through the first round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C, but spelled out in the second. She will be back in May to compete in D.C.

Families and children gathered at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Monroe County Public Library auditorium to cheer on 24 students ranging from elementary school-aged to middle school from five counties competing in the regional spelling bee, sponsored by IU's Media School. 

The spellers came from Brown, Greene, Monroe, Morgan and Owen counties and have all won spelling bees at their respective schools, leading them to get to compete in the regional bee. 

“Today you’re going to see a great American tradition,” said Teresa White, an instructor at the Media School in her introduction to the spelling bee. 

White said all the spellers are referred to by a number they wear to promote fairness. Park, the bee’s winner, was number 17. 

As the bee began, students had to spell words such as tooth, sunflower, heroic and kosher. If they got it right, one of the three judges tapped a bell. If they got it wrong, they were instructed to move to the side of the stage and sit next to Darla Raines from the Media School, who has been corralling the spellers for 10 years. 

The spellers are often upset and teary-eyed when they sit next to Raines.

“I wanna be able to hold them and give them a tissue and tell them they did a good job, but I can’t,” she said. 

A few rounds into the bee, White came to the stage to announce who scored the highest on a vocabulary test the students had to do before the bee. Yena Park scored the highest with 21/25 words correct. She received a travel cup from the Media School as a prize. 

As the rounds jumped into double digits, the words started to get harder. The remaining few students had to spell words such as allocable, profundity and disparate. 

The remaining two spellers were Park and eighth grader Iris Wang, number 23. Park won in the 17th round with the word corollary, and the crowd erupted in cheer for the returning champion.

She will be competing in nationals in May, with all expenses paid by the Media School. She also received a 2020 United States Mint Proof Set, a one-year online Britannica Premium subscription and a one-year subscription to the Merriam-Webster unabridged online dictionary. 

Hyun Kwon, Park’s mother, said she was excited and nervous for her daughter since this was her second time being in this position. She said Park had been wanting to go back to D.C. to visit because she enjoyed her trip last time so much. 

“I’m happy her dream came true,” Kwon said. 

Park said she studied two to three hours every day for the last few months, and she studied more than 4,000 words. She reads a lot, which she thinks helps her, and she’s currently reading a book on American history. 

She has been interested in reading and spelling since she was two, but there really isn’t any particular reason. It just comes naturally. 

“I don’t even remember why I like this stuff so much anymore,” she said.

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