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Megan Rabe crowned Howard spelling bee champion

By Sara Toth, stoth@tribune.com

12:00 PM EDT, March 11, 2014

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Howard County has a new spelling bee champion.

Megan Rabe, 13, an eighth-grader at Clarksville Middle School, was the last speller standing after nearly 300 words and four hours of competition at the 10th annual Howard County Library System Spelling Bee Friday, March 7 at Reservoir High School in Fulton.

In the final round, Megan and Hammond Middle School seventh-grader Audrey Lin volleyed words — "episcopal," "putrilage," "ziti," "algorism," "gallic." Finally, Audrey faltered on "homunculus," and with the correct spelling of that word, and following it up with "quadrifid," Megan was victorious.

With the win, Megan received a $1,000 scholarship, a trophy nearly as tall as her and a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary. She also has a spot representing Howard County in the Scripps National Spelling Bee starting May 25. In addition to being Megan's alternate for the national bee, Audrey also won a trophy and dictionary, and a $750 scholarship.

Megan's victory was made all the more sweeter because she fell short at last year's bee, coming in second to Columbia Academy student Mitsuki Ota, who was absent from the lineup this year.

"I feel ecstatic," Megan said after her win. "I tried so hard for this. I guess it's just my time now."

Following last year's defeat on the word "odograph," Megan studied up to four hours a day in preparation for the bee.

"Spelling, sometimes it seems silly, but you need to know (the words)," she said. "It's really fun at times. You can apply it in the future, so the spelling bees never really stop."

Last year, Megan said she didn't study Greek or Latin roots "all that much, this year I really focused on that, and it paid off."

In the final round, both Megan and Audrey struggled with "amylase," a word whose Greek origins Megan knew, but "some words were still challenging," she said. She just had to work through it, and weeks of studying — and the Greek and Latin roots — paid off.

The bee was longer this year than any year in recent memory, in part because the library system held a BumbleBee Celebration at the start of the night, which is typically a separate event. The original awards ceremony for the BumbleBees — winners of school spelling bees too young to qualify for the county bee — had been canceled because of snow.

As the bee crept through its fourth hour, Megan was fastidious in her approach, asking official pronouncer Ellen Giles over and over to say the word again, inflecting different syllables until she got a feel for the word.

"The pronunciation can give you a lot," Megan said. "It's the most important thing they can give you besides the definition."

Megan's mother, Liza Rabe, said she "ecstatic" her daughter won.

"I don't know how she got some of those words right," Rabe said. "I'm really amazed with her. She was happy last year when she got second place, but she said, 'I'm going to come back.' And she did it. She really put her heart into it."

After the bee, Giles the bee was a chance for students to "test themselves by exploring interesting vocabulary." Once you know a word, it sticks in your head, Giles said — so it's unlikely Audrey will ever forget how to spell "homunculus" now.

In many ways, the students are learning more than the word they're spelling. They're learning linguistic principles like roots, prefixes and suffixes, like in the case of "putrilage," which is similar to "putrid," Giles said. Additionally, the students are learning languages of origins, and all the respective quirks therein. For example, Giles said, with the world "flic-flac," the only way a student would spell correctly is if they knew it was French, and that the French rarely use k's in their words.

"There are so many interesting things you're learning," she said. "Even if you don't know how to spell a word, the definition, the part of speech, the parts of the word, the language of origin, all those different things play into how you see the word."