Two-hundred and sixty-three words. Sixty-three spellers. Seventeen rounds. Three-and-a-half hours. One new spelling bee champion in Howard County.
Mitsuki Ota, 12, a seventh-grader at Columbia Academy, won the Ninth Annual Howard County Library System Spelling Bee Friday, March 8 at Reservoir High School in Fulton, after correctly spelling "sebaceous."
"I feel so happy," said Mitsuki, after coming away victorious on his fourth time representing Columbia Academy at the bee. "I tried to stay relaxed, but I could feel my heart beating like crazy. I still can't believe I won."
Mitsuki will now represent Howard County at the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C. in May. As part of his prize, he wins at $1,000 scholarship, a trophy and a copy of the Webster's Third New World International Dictionary.
Mitsuki's win came after runner-up Megan Rabe, a seventh-grader at Clarksville Middle School, missed "odograph." Mitsuki correctly spelled that word, then mastered "sebaceous" for the win.
That was in Round 17. Over the course of three hours before that, 63 students battled it out of stage, with moments of intense competition.
"This is just as exciting, if not more exciting, than the (Baltimore) Ravens winning the Super Bowl," County Council Member Courtney Watson, who acted as moderator for the bee, told the crowd before competition started. "You think that's funny, but it's true, you'll see."
The match did have all the excitement of Super Bowl XVII — moderators fielded, and denied, two appeals, leaving the audience hushed, and when Murray Hill Middle School sixth-grader Rahel Petros misspelled "deglaciation" in Round 8, the judges called her back on stage, ruling a possible mispronunciation could have contributed to the misspelling. Rahel, however, immediately misspelled "baleen," and was again cut.
Round 3 proved especially difficult. After the first two rounds, 47 students remained, but five spellers fell in quick succession at the start of the third, stumbling over words like "efficacy," "gynarchy," and "segue."
By the end of Round 3, 26 spellers were left.
When it was all over, Kelli Shimabukuro, community education and partnerships coordinator with the library system, reflected on the evening's competition, and how important — and fun — it is for the students.
"It doesn't matter who you are," she said. "Everyone has an equal chance of winning. There was a wide range of kids up there, children of all ages, and it's encouraging to see them broadening their horizons like this ... This encourages kids to learn about words, and the roots of words, and it shows them the importance of working hard and practicing. ... You don't have to rely on spell-check when you know how to spell."