HAMPTON—Karlesha Canady is what some might call an accidental speller.
During the classroom spelling bee in December, the 14-year-old student thought she was taking a stand-up spelling test.
She won, and moved on to the school-wide spelling bee at Lindsay Middle School. The eighth-grader beat about 30 other students.
At this month's Tidewater Regional Spelling Bee, she beat 21 spellers from across the Peninsula. She says she didn't study for any of the contests.
Now she's heading to Washington, D.C., where she's one of 227 students from across the world who will compete this May in the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
There's no getting around studying to win at that last level — last year's winning word was "cymotrichous," an adjective for having wavy hair. It's pronounced sigh-mot-tree-kuhs.
Past winners have hired coaches and spent hundreds of hours studying word origins and spellings.
Canady will be coached by Lindsay staff including seventh-grade English teacher Lamont Draft, who is thrilled at Canady's chance to shine on a national level.
"We'll be blitzing her three days a week with words and strategies," he said. "We're going to move her along on higher-level words as well."
This is the third year the Peninsula has registered to send a contestant to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, according to Veronica Davis, founder and director of Virginia Roots, a Hampton-based nonprofit that sponsors the regional bee each year.
Gabrielle Towne, a ninth-grade student who attends home school in Mathews County, said in an email that she represented the region the past two years.
Davis describing Canady as having a "giftedness" that she believes will take the teenager far.
Canady has a quiet, composed demeanor. When asked to spell a word, she looks toward the ceiling while her fingers quietly trace letters on the table.
"She doesn't really buckle," Draft said. "As other kids were eliminated, she kept her composure. She's a poised young lady."
The teen said her father gives her 10 words each day to practice. Her goal for how far she'll go in the national bee is simple.
"To the end," she says. "I want to go all the way."
For details about the Scripps National Spelling bee, including broadcast dates and times, visit http://www.spellingbee.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun