One could describe Grace Li as “cynical” in the way she performed at Saturday’s 2011-12 Washington County Spelling Bee.
With each word, the eighth-grader from Boonsboro Middle School asked the judges to repeat it, describe it and use it in a sentence, almost like she was “exhibiting feelings ranging from distrustful doubt to contemptuous and mocking disbelief” as the word was defined by judges.
When her final challenger, Jennifer Cave of Clear Spring Middle School, bowed out by misspelling “oratorio” in the seventh round, Grace calmly stepped to the microphone and spelled the very word that described her demeanor.
“Cynical. C-Y-N-I-C-A-L. Cynical,” she said, prompting loud applause inside Western Heights Middle School.
Grace was crowned the county spelling champion and will move on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
“I always tell myself that there’s a lot of things that can go wrong, so I prepared myself as if this was my first year in the county (bee),” said Grace, who also won the seventh-grade title in 2011. “It feels pretty good.”
Josie Baker-Vautrin, a seventh-grader at Clear Spring Middle School, correctly spelled “ridiculous” to claim her class championship, and Ajay Kosuri of Boonsboro Middle School took the sixth-grade competition with “benevolent.”
Only the eighth-grade champion advances to the national bee, which runs May 27 through June 1.
Grace, who said she “sort of” expected to win, lucked out in 2011 after she misspelled “homonym,” but made it back on stage when her two other competitors couldn’t close the deal in the next round.
Even after being on stage last year, the jitters never go away, Grace said.
“They’re there the whole time,” she said.
The same could be said for Josie, who won second place in her school and county competitions as a sixth-grader in 2011.
“I was sitting in the chair and I could feel my heart beating,” she said. “I was so scared and nervous.”
Josie said it felt really good to see her studying pay off, but “everybody else out there did really, really well and I’m happy for them.”
As for next year’s competition, she sounded confident.
“Eighth grade, it’s going to be a challenge, but I think I can handle it,” Josie said.
Ajay said a few of his fellow competitors worried him, but once they dropped out, he knew the sixth-grade title was his for the taking.
“I’m just happy that I won ... and I was able to represent my school here and win it for my entire school and my family,” Ajay said, adding that he rarely went to bed before midnight in the past two weeks to stay up and study his words.
Grace is the daughter of Xiaorong Yin and Mengyang Li of Hagerstown. Josie is the daughter of Cassandra Baker and Chris Vautrin of Hagerstown. Ajay is the son of Sujatha Alluri of Boonsboro.
The winner of each class received a trophy, a medal, a dictionary and a year’s subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
Judges for the contest were Paul Bailey of the Washington County School Board and Jake Womer and Bob Fleenor of The Herald-Mail, which sponsored this year’s event along with Washington County Public Schools, Shippensburg (Pa.) University, Rotary International and Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy.
As for advice for future spellers, Grace said: “Study hard and always overestimate your unknown opponents.”
The following are some of the words presented to spellers Saturday at the 2011-12 Washington County Spelling Bee: