On day three of the spelling bee in Ms. Cerwinske’s sixth grade class at University Elementary School, only two students remained: Yena Park, and Amelia Qiu.
The winner would move on to compete in the school spelling bee. Park said her classmates reacted in two different ways.
“Either A: I was probably going to win again,” the 11-year-old said, “or B: ‘This has been lasting a really long time. What happens if it doesn’t end before the school spelling bee begins?’”
Yena Park is a sixth-grade student at University Elementary School. Park has won the IU spelling bee three times.
In the case of an extended standoff, Teresa White, administrator of the IU spelling bee, said that the pronouncer pulls words from an unpublished list to raise the difficulty level.
This time, the unpublished word disqualified Qiu while Park advanced to become IU Bee champion for the third consecutive year.
Park said that her secret to victory is systematically reviewing the Scripps yearly list with her dad, Seongin Park. Since the first grade when she started participating, they have always made sure to drill every word that could challenge her.
“There was lots of stumbling along the way,” Park said. She particularly remembers that the word gyttja, which is a type of mud, gave her trouble.
Over time she began to recognize patterns in spelling and pronunciation and memorized the words with greater ease.
Hyun Kwon, Park’s mother, said she thinks Park’s affinity for math gave her an extra edge in the spelling bee because of her ability to recognize patterns.
Park’s parents are from South Korea. Kwon said they both emphasized speaking English and reading English-language books in their home so their kids can involve themselves more in the community.
Park said she felt little connection to the community this year since the regionals, locally known as the IU Bee, was administered as an individual online test with multiple choice and vocabulary questions.
The IU Bee normally occurs at the Monroe County Public Library. School spelling bee champions from Brown, Greene, Monroe, Morgan and Owen counties participate.
White said she missed the drama and excitement of the in-person spelling bee.
“It’s really cute to see these students of all ages come up to the microphone on the stage, and they’re so serious, and they’re really into it,” White said.
Students who disqualify by misspelling a word sit down at a designated area, which White called the “kiss-and-cry area.” She calls it this because the students in this section look sad and the parents often need tissues to wipe away their own tears.
But no in-person memories were made this year.
Because Park scored the highest, she qualified for the semifinals, which will also be administered online.
The Scripps Spelling Bee finals will be held in person July 8 at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, according to a Scripps press release.
“If I even get that far, it would be amazing,” Park said.
Even if Park doesn’t make finals, she said she will still participate by watching the live broadcast.
“There’s nothing like seeing a bunch of ultra-talented spellers spelling each other out for the title of champion,” Park said.
Editor’s note: Teresa White was previously one of Julianna Wigsmoen’s professors.