Student preps for spelling bee prelims

Nathan McElroy and his mother Beth participate in a Scripps National Spelling Bee laptop test session with Ross Production Services at The Marietta Times on Wednesday to confirm internet reliability before Saturday’s preliminaries. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Though it may seem like ages since local spellers stood on the stage of the Mid-Ohio Valley Players’ theater and contested for the title of regional champion, the competition continues this weekend for one local student.

Nathan McElroy, 11, of Whipple, has used the last three months to sharpen his memory and knowledge of the most basic tool of communication.

“I’ve mainly just been studying words off the big list they gave us,” said McElroy, then pointing to his mother Beth. “She’ll ask me a word and I’ll spell it.”

That call-and-response method, paired with the use of a mobile application developed by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, has offered in excess of a few thousand words to remember, with context clues including word origin and definition.

“We got mail about tutors and everything, so we know that’s what the competition is, but what’s neat is we’ve learned and are seeing trends just in spelling by knowing the origin of the word,” explained Beth.

“I’ve also learned to hate French,” McElroy joked as he reflected on studying Wednesday. “All of the words are all over the place, where one word will end with an ‘s’ but then the next word it’s an ‘eau’ and you’re like, how?”

Nathan beat out 35 other spellers from local schools in March with the correct order of letters to define the filter-feeding system inside the mouths of whales.

The final word in March: Baleen.

The words up next: Unknown.

This year, the Scripps National Spelling Bee will consist of three levels of virtual competition: the preliminaries, quarterfinals and semifinals.

If a speller passes through each of those levels, they head to Florida to compete live in the final round on stage with the top 10 to 12 spellers from across the nation.

“The idea of possibly winning, that’s exciting,” said McElroy. “Going to Florida, all of that.”

Saturday will serve as the preliminaries, with the Times’ proctoring McElroy’s appearance on the ESPN 3 virtual stage between noon and 1 p.m.

“During the preliminaries the speller will have the opportunity to compete in up to three rounds in one turn,” explained Tyler Hyde, the marketing communications manager for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in proctor training last week. “Once your speller is moved onto our virtual stage they will receive their round one spelling word. If they’ve spelled that word correctly, they will be immediately given their round two word meaning question. And, if they answer that correctly they will go straight to round three which is another spelling round.”

If he completes the three rounds successfully, McElroy proceeds to the quarterfinals on June 15, virtually, between noon and 6:30 p.m., again appearing on ESPN 3.

“We expect about 100 spellers to move on to the quarterfinals,” said Nicole Dittoe, manager of local sponsorship for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. “The quarterfinals will (also) consist of three rounds of virtual competition, however, these rounds will proceed one at a time with spellers competing in their speller number order.”

McElroy is listed as speller number 79 for the national competition.

Then, if the conclusion of June 15 proves fruitful, McElroy’s final virtual appearance from the Times will be a late one, potentially 7-11 p.m. on June 27 on ESPN 2, for an estimated competition of about 50 semifinalists.

“I think his dad and siblings, probably aunt and uncle will watch,” said Beth.

If all three sessions are conquered, McElroy would next move on to the in-person finals on July 8 to be broadcast live on ESPN 2 between 8 and 10 p.m.


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