Music soothes speller’s nerves

May 28, 2017

VAN WERT, Ohio : Una VanWynsberghe will compete in this week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second straight year. What did she learn from her first go-around?

“Don’t panic as much,” Una replied.

She said she had trouble paying attention to other spellers while awaiting her turn last year because she felt like she “was going to have a heart attack.”

The bee is a pressure cooker for many of the roughly 300 kids who qualify by winning regional contests. They have to sit on a stage at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, and, one by one, stand up, walk to a microphone, hear a word, ask for its definition, language of origin and part of speech, then try to spell it out loud. And they do that in front of 1,000 spectators and ESPN cameras broadcasting to the nation each child’s success or failure.

At the 2016 event, Una correctly spelled “divestiture” in the first round of oral spelling before she was eliminated for misspelling “patrilocal” in the second round.

Una said she likely will be less nervous at her second national bee. She is a year older at 13 and has just completed seventh grade at Lincolnview Junior High School. She also has taken a liking to performing in public after learning to play the trumpet and other brass instruments.

“I’m pretty good at it,” she said about her trumpet skills. Others seem to agree: The Ohio Music Education Association gave her a superior rating for trumpet solo, she has been playing with two high school bands, and she has joined the Van Wert Area Community Concert Band, which consists mostly of adults.

Her participation in the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee will be sandwiched by two band performances. Una preferred discussing music to spelling during a recent interview at Van Wert’s Brumback Library, where she has been a volunteer and downloads books to her e-reader.

The library has displayed Una’s spelling bee trophies, plaques and certificates in a glass case in its children’s department.

“Kids change as they grow up, and band is our new be-all and end-all,” said Una’s father, Dewey VanWynsberghe, a corn and soybean farmer near Van Wert.

Una qualified for the national bee by repeating as champion of the 63rd annual Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee presented by STAR Financial Bank. It was fitting that her winning word was a musical term: “rosalia,” defined by a Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a melody in which a phrase or passage is successively repeated each time a step or half step higher.”

Una became the second back-to-back champ in recent years. Kaelyn Reigh Bender of Noble County won the regional bee in 2012 and 2013.

This week’s national bee will begin Tuesday with a written spelling and vocabulary test, continue Wednesday with two rounds of oral spelling and another written test, and conclude Thursday with oral spelling semifinals, another written test, and the final round of oral spelling. The winner will receive more than 30,000; third place, 10,000. Other high finishers will receive between 5,000.

About 10 spellers will advance to the Thursday night final round. In each of the past three bees, two spellers have tied for first place when they ran out of their allotment of words without a miss. E.W. Scripps Co. changed the rules this year so that if a winner has not emerged after all rounds of oral spelling are completed, the results of the Thursday written test will determine the champion.

This year’s 291 spellers are ages 6 to 15 and include 72 repeaters. Three spellers will vie in their fourth bee, and 14 in their third.

Una will be speller No 239. She and her parents have been preparing by picking words randomly from a dictionary for Una to spell.

“You can hit it pretty hard for 45 minutes, and we have, and then it’s like, aahhh, let’s take a break,” said Una’s mother, Rachel VanWynsberghe.

“We don’t do tutors and coaching and that kind of thing,” Dewey said. “It’s pretty informal study right now. I know that there’s more that could be done, but we’re not capable of doing it.”

“The music has taken a lot of her time after school,” Rachel said about Una. “She loves it.”

Rachel, Una and Una’s sister, Siska, 10, are scheduled to leave the Washington, D.C., area Saturday on an early-morning flight so they can make it back to Van Wert in time for Una to play trumpet in a band performance at the yearly Van Wert Peony Festival parade.