Nerves ran high and challenges abounded Thursday night at the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Spelling Bee.
“The National Spelling Bee rules have changed for 2012,” District Spelling Bee Coordinator Jennifer Counts said. “And it has been difficult for the students and their parents to adjust.”
Controversy began in round one, with almost half of the competitors misspelling the first series of words.
Parents and fans contested the judges’ rulings on issues from mis-seated spellers, to the non-alphabetical order in which words were given, and lack of proper study material. While some complaints were acknowledged, most spellers ended their journey after the first round.
Rounds two through four were equally brutal with all but the top three contestants remaining.
Eighth-grader and Shivela Middle School student Stephan Culver attacked the word “behemoth,” to start round five, and Dorothy McElhinney’s Dominique Raymundo mastered “carbohydrates” with no fear. Thompson Middle School’s Shruti Amin easily handled “pituitary.”
Round six saw Dominique stumbling and misspelling “scythe,” leaving Stephan and Shruti the top two contestants of the night to battle it out evenly through rounds seven to nine.
Culver crunched through “cartilage” in round ten, while Shruti stumbled, dangerously teetering on her 30-second spelling window, before recovering to properly spell “vehemence.”
Round 11 saw Stephan struggle with, and fall over “miso,” leaving Shruti the winning word, “sultan.”
In her careful style, she requested country and language of origin and definition, though the smile on her face showed her confidence.
The room applauded this third-time Murrieta Spelling Bee champ, and first, second, and third place winners were awarded trophies and $100, $75, and $50 Barnes and Noble gift cards, donated by Best Impressions, and the Murrieta Youth Soccer League, respectively.
When asked if her sights are set on the National Championships in DC, Shruti said, “I’m just trying to do my best and, of course, I hope to make it as far as I can.”
Stephan stood tall, happy with his accomplishment.
“I’ve participated in Bees since the fourth grade, and this is the farthest I’ve ever gotten,” Stephan said.
His father, David Culver, said of the event: “Watching [Stephan] play football might be less painful. It’s intimidating as a parent!”
Shruti’s father, Jatin, said he was, “most proud” of his daughter’s success and is looking forward to the next round. Indeed, this is not uncharted territory for the Amin family as Shruti is the second of the Amin children to compete in spelling bees.
Jennifer Counts spoke on the success of the night, acknowledging that with the new rules, the event needs some polish. “National rules have changed, and we had to change with them,” Counts said.
According to the Scripps National Spelling Bee rules, students were not allowed lists of words from which to study, but instead were directed to website, Spell It! to practice from the 300 words available there.
However, whether all participants were aware of the site’s availability was unclear.
“Schools have to pay for access to the website, and not every school did,” Counts said. “Another change is the non-alphabetizing of the list that eliminates the likelihood of memorization, but can be confusing.”
This change of format, has been difficult for parents and students alike, according to mom Maria Bowers.
Speaking of daughter Gracie’s accomplishment, even though she was a first round casualty: ”The whole family came out to cheer her on, but even more, we are thrilled with the level of school support here. The Monte Vista principal and teacher both are in the audience.”
Shruti Amin will compete at the County Bee in Moreno Valley on March 22, 2012.
Ashley Ludwig is a local freelance writer and frequent contributor to SWRNN.