Scripps bee contestants prep for D.C.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Matthew Taylor (front, left) listens to a presentation by classmates in Christina Nestor's seventh-grade English language arts class Wednesday morning at Williamstown High School. Taylor is preparing for the Scripps National Spelling Bee after winning the regional bee in March.

Matthew Taylor is out to win.

The winner of The Marietta Times Regional Spelling Bee and his family are getting ready to go to Washington D.C. next week for the Scripps national contest.

Taylor is a veteran competition speller, having started in second grade. Last year he finished fourth in the regionals, and this year he won, with the chance to go to the national finals, expenses paid by The Marietta Times.

Preparing for the national bee, where he will be up against more than 500 of the best spellers in the nation, is a monumental task.

“There are so many unknown words that could come up,” he said, sitting in the office area of Williamstown High School, where he attends seventh grade, on Wednesday. “I study the meaning, too, because there is going to be a vocabulary round.”

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Tate Ayers talks to a Washington Elementary School fifth-grader while conducting a tour of Marietta Middle School for the younger students Wednesday afternoon. Ayers finished runner-up in the regional spelling bee and will go to the national competition next week.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, now in its 92nd year, offers home study guides for spellers, but much of Taylor’s preparation involves random trips through the dictionary.

His mother, Tina Taylor, said he has an app on his phone to practice with and uses it during occasionally free moments during the day, which are becoming less frequent because it’s finals week at his school. In addition to studies, he is also involved in the cheer squad and two math organizations.

The family is planning the trip as a vacation, she said, with Matthew’s father, Joe Taylor, and his two brothers coming for the six-day stay at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., a District of Columbia suburb about 10 miles south of the Washington Monument. The bee will house 567 spellers and their families at the hotel, and the competition events will all be held there. Spellers arrive Sunday – the Taylor family will drive there, Tina said – and preliminaries will be held Monday, on-stage spelling will be held the following two days, and the finalists will compete for the trophy on Thursday. The competitions Tuesday and Wednesday will be broadcast on ESPN-3, and the finals will be carried on ESPN and ESPN-2. All the competitions will be livestreamed on the ESPN app.

Tina Taylor said the family is looking forward to seeing the sights of the nation’s capital on Friday, the day after the finals, particularly the Holocaust Museum and The Smithsonian. They’ve been doing some fundraising to help with expenses on the trip, with Matthew having sold box upon box of candy bars. A spaghetti dinner, open to everyone, is being held at the First United Methodist Church down the street from the school on Friday night from 5 to 7 p.m., with help from a local women’s organization.

“Williamstown has really stepped up,” she said.

Matthew’s English/language arts teacher, Christina Nestor, said the emphasis on spelling has declined over the years with the rise of spellchecking for digital documents.

“I tell students that in the real world when you’re doing something on the fly, there’s no spellcheck in your pencil or pen,” she said. “Even the state tests have spellcheck now. I like to think that teaching them the Greek and Latin roots of words helps their spelling.”

And for Matthew, the vacation and travel are secondary – the spelling is what he’s there for.

“I’m competitive,” he said.

“He likes to win,” Tina said, noting that he has shelves of trophies at home to prove it.

“He said if he doesn’t win this year, he’s going back next year,” she said.

Matthew’s regional championship was a hard-won effort. On the night of March 22, he and Tate Ayers fought it out for 30 minutes in the Marietta High School auditorium before Ayers spelled out on “recollection” and Taylor landed the final blow by correctly spelling “consolidate.” But Ayers isn’t out of the running.

As runner-up, Tate’s mother Heather Ayers, said, he had the option to enter but pay his own way, an alternative she discovered while talking to Matthew’s mother the night of the regional bee. It’s the second year Scripps has offered that option, which still requires the student to be a school champion in one of the spelling bee regions.

“We had to apply by midnight that night, so we rushed to our coordinator, Susan Vessels, to get verification from the school, and filled out the application,” Heather said. “We got the invitation several weeks later.”

Getting ready is challenging and uncertain, she said.

“It’s really difficult to study – he could get any word out of the unabridged dictionary, only the first 600 words are certain,” she said. “He learns to pronounce everything first, write the words 10 times … we do spot checks by just cracking open the dictionary, what’s called cold-spelling.”

Tate has been in the regionals three times but this is his first trip to the nationals, although not his first to Washington D.C. — the family has vacationed there once.

On Wednesday afternoon after the last bell at Marietta Middle School, Ayers was taking a group of Washington Elementary School fifth graders on a tour of the building they’ll be attending next year, with quick ducks into third-floor classrooms, the gym, the music room, two computer areas and a lot of going up and down stairs and through long corridors. He’d learned the previous day that his campaign for eighth grade class president had succeeded. In addition to student council work, he also is on the swim team and the National Honor Society.

“I write the words 10 times, go over them with my mom,” he said. “The most difficult words for me are the French-based words, lots of vowels and silent letters.”

He doesn’t feel intimidated about the prospect of being in the national spotlight.

“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “It is what it is, it’s really the luck of the draw, which words you get. It’s going to be exciting to meet other kids with some common interests.”

For the winner, there’s more at stake than a cool trophy. The top speller gets a cash prize of $50,000.

Marietta area Scripps National Spelling Bee competitors

•Matthew Taylor, seventh grade, Williamstown High School, regional winner.

•Tate Ayers, seventh grade, Marietta Middle School, regional runner-up.

To watch the bee:

•Tuesday: Round Two and the beginning of Round Three, ESPN-3, 9:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

•Wednesday: End of Round Three, announcement of finalists, 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., ESPN-3.

•Thursday: Finals, 10 a.m to 2 p.m., ESPN-2, and 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., ESPN.

•All the above are livestreamed on the ESPN app.

Source: ESPN.