WASHINGTON – At first glance,the small,red-haired,blue-eyed,home-schooled student from Sunset,S.C. seems shy.
He's anything but that.
Ross Gibson,11,is one of 288 contestants participating in the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee this week. He earned the chance to compete after winning the regional bee sponsored by the Anderson Independent-Mail in late March.
Ross studied for two months leading up to this week's big event. He spoke shyly about his study habits in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington where spellers stay and the competition is held.
“I learned a lot about the origins of words,” he said.
Ross took the Round 1 written test Monday. He said he is a little unsure about the results. “I think I did half and half,” he said. “Some of the words I knew right off the bat,but I'm a little iffy.”
Thursday morning,he will take the stage to compete in the bee's Round 2,the first oral round. He'll learn about noon whether his combined score on the two rounds is high enough to send him to the quarterfinals.
Tuesday,participants enjoyed a day of food and fun at the Turkey Run Park in McLean,Va.,just across the Potomac River. Spellers took a day off from studying to enjoy inflatable games,volleyball,face painting,barbeque,ice cream and more.
Ross was joined by his own personal cheering team – mom Kathy Gibson,grandmother,Georgia Boggs,and best friend,Stephen Baker.
“Every speller comes with five or six people,” said Boggs,referring to the scores of parents and friends crowding the hotel lobby.
Some spellers stayed behind at the hotel to study,but Ross said the day was about having some fun.
“I pushed Ross to study,but I'm not as hard core as some of these parents,” Kathy Gibson said. “I think at some point you just have to let kids be kids.”
On the bus,Ross shed his shy demeanor and chattered about school. He revealed that,despite being a successful speller,his favorite subject is science.
“I like it because I get to blow stuff up,” he said. He also enjoys math,but said he doesn't like history or language arts.
Ross said,as far as the spelling bee goes,he's only worried about one thing.
“The goal is to do my best,whether it's first round or winning,” he said.
At the park,Ross made a beeline for the inflatable games. He streaked past the other spellers,making several successful shots in basketball and throwing 39 mph in baseball.
“I'm having fun here,” he said finally settling down on a park bench to eat.
At lunch,Ross fended off the advances of girl spellers while eating a hot dog and watermelon. The sound of karaoke punctuated the event. Kathy Gibson said the chances of seeing Ross on that stage were zero. “Absolutely not! If he does,I'll leave,” she said laughing.
While Ross disappeared again,Kathy described the pride of having a son competing in the national spelling bee. “It just hit me when we saw the stage” at the hotel,she said with tears in her eyes,”I thought,how did I get a child here?”
Ross finally settled back with his family.
“I'm tired,” he said plopping down in a chair opposite his grandmother,”but I did have fun.”
Wednesday,Ross and his family plan to join a bee-sponsored tour of the Capital.
The Quarterfinals will air live on ESPN360.com Thursday from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Semifinals will air live Friday on ESPN from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The finals will air on ABC from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday.
The last speller standing will receive a $30,000 cash prize and an engraved trophy from Scripps. In addition,he or she will receive a $2,500 savings bond from Merriam-Webster,a $5,000 cash prize from Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation and reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica valued at more than $3,800.