WASHINGTON – Gemel Amelia Joseph,12,knows how to spell rijstattafel. Not only does she know how to spell it,but she also knows what it means – an Indonesian meal served with rice,sauces and side dishes.
Gemel said it was the most difficult word she had to spell June 1 on her first day of the Scripps 77th National Spelling Bee. Gemel is the only one of the 265 spellers in the bee representing the Virgin Islands. She and her family arrived from a delayed flight from St. Croix at 10:45 p.m. May 30.
She woke up at 5 a.m. June 1 to study from a list of words used in previous bees to prepare for the first round of the competition,the written test.
“It was much easier than an oral test because you can scratch out a word and correct it,” said Gemel.
Gemel said she was confident in spelling the first 10 words,but after that she started to feel jittery. The spellers' parents took the 25-word test,too. Bee officials will announce June 2 which parent spelled the most words correctly and he or she will receive $250.
The morning of June 2,all the spellers take part in an oral round. Their scores there and from the written test determine which competitors will participate in Round 3 that afternoon. Later rounds will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN.
Gemel began studying for the spelling bee in March after winning the territorial spelling bee. She has been studying two hours every day with her coach,Rabby Birbahadur.
Birbahadur,also called “Mrs. B,” has been friends with Gemel since Birbahadur coached Gemel's sister,Leann,who competed in the 2001 national finals. Gemel said she wanted to be in the spelling bee ever since Leann was preparing for her win in the territorial spelling bee. At that time,Gemel was 8 years old.
She said she feels as though she has an advantage because she already had an idea about what to expect in the spelling bee.
This is her first time in the capital. She and her mother,Pam Joseph,and three other relatives and an official escort have been taking tours of Washington sponsored by the spelling bee organization. They went to a barbeque,and they went on a photo safari where she was able to see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and World War II memorials.
Gemel is always studying because she is always reading or getting quizzed by her aunt and other relatives.
“I barely get a chance to read the newspaper because she is always taking it away form me,” her mother said.
Gemel enjoys reading the Harry Potter novels,surfing the Internet and watching her favorite show,“That's So Raven.”
Her school is supporting her. The teacher gave her a card from her friends and classmates that wished her the best of luck in the competition.
Gemel hopes to come back for the next two years if she doesn't win this year.
“Regardless of the outcome,I'm still proud of her. We'll leave the rest to the Lord. It's an honor to just represent the Virgin Islands,” said Joseph she as she gave her daughter big kiss on the cheek.