NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Before Melina Gabele left for National Harbor to compete in the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee, friends and supporters made sure to tell the eighth-grader at Mater Dei Academy that her hometown was rooting her on.
Last week, the school threw a surprise celebration for Melina, 13, who qualified for the national spelling bee by taking home first place at Ohio’s Tri-County Spelling Bee.
The day was already special for Melina — it was the day of her eighth-grade formal dance and field day at school. Things only got better after friends distracted Melina while the entire school lined up outside.
“They had me walk through banners,” the Willoughby, Ohio, native said.
“Each banner from each grade had a different word on it from the bee,” said Carla, Melina’s mom.
During the tri-county competition, Melina went word for word with Julianna Sloan, a sixth-grader at Braden Middle School, for almost 60 rounds. It was the longest Tri-County Spelling Bee since 2011, which lasted more than 100 rounds.
This is Melina’s second year competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Last year, she tied for 47th place before getting eliminated. This year, Melina said she’s taking it easy — nerves got the best of her during last year’s competition.
“While I’m here, I’m trying to focus on having more fun instead cramming more study time,” Melina said. “But I’m still a little less nervous about this year.”
Spelling words with double consonants, one of her biggest worries, will always be on the back of her mind, especially tomorrow when the competition officially starts.
But Melina said the second time around, she has the upper hand over many of the first-time spellers. Carla, said her daughter, the first national speller in the family, is more than prepared.
“We’ve been doing this since the fourth grade. We made it here twice and couple times at the Tri-County,” Carla said.
All 285 spellers took a written, spelling and vocabulary test Tuesday morning. Spellers take the stage for Round 2 at 8 a.m. Wednesday those who spell their words correctly spell again on stage in the afternoon. ESPN3 will televise the competition beginning at 8 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. EDT.
At about 5 p.m., bee officials will announce the names of a maximum of 50 spellers to advance to the semifinals. They are chosen based on the points they earn for correctly spelling words on stage and their scores on the written test. ESPN 2 will broadcast the semifinals beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday.
The finals will air Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN. The winner takes home $35,000 in cash, a trophy and other prizes.
Reach reporter Jeffrey Pierre at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.