Arrow-right Camera


National Spelling Bee brings competitors with diverse backgrounds

What makes a superior s-p-e-l-l-e-r?

There are just a few similarities among a handful of North Idaho kids who have dreams of winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.: A couple had spelling bee champs in their bloodlines, two had started reading by age 3 and four play musical instruments.

They’re among the 51 fourth- through eighth-graders from five North Idaho counties who will compete at the regional spelling bee on St. Patrick’s Day.

The winner of the regional challenge earns a spot at the national bee at the end of May.

With the growing popularity of the Scripps National Spelling Bee – more than 4 million viewers watched the competition’s final round in 2011 – the upcoming contest offers a chance to learn what makes a good bee contender:

Rohnin Randles, 13, Lakeland Junior High, Rathdrum

This confident young man with brown curly locks and glasses has been to the regional bee three times.

“The first couple years I went I thought it was a coincidence,” said Randles, whose T-shirt reads Just another day in Honor Society. “But then I realized I was pretty good.”

He’s never won the regional spelling bee, but multiple shelves in his bedroom dedicated to trophies are evidence of his successes in math, robotics, geography and baseball.

“He’s our little smarty-pants,” said Randles’ mother, Becky. Her son just took the SAT and scored well enough to be accepted into Harvard, his first college choice, she said.

Q: What’s your trick to being a good speller?

A: “I visualize. I’ll picture the word in my head, spell it in my head; ask myself: Does it look right? Most of the words I can’t spell, I haven’t seen before.”

Randles started reading when he was 2 1/2 years old. He liked the newspaper, and would crawl onto his dad’s lap to read it.

Q: Are you going to practice for the regional spell-off?

A: “This is my last year, and I’d like to give it a good shot so I can go out saying I tried my best.”

Q: Who helps you with spelling, mom or dad?

A: “Dad”; Destry Randles was a spelling bee champ when he was a student.

Q: You play electric guitar; what bands give you inspiration?

A: “Eddie Van Halen, Dire Straits … I love the Beatles.”

Q: What’s your favorite television show?

A: “Seinfeld. … Most of the things I really enjoy, I was born in the wrong time period.”

Q: You are going to the state math competition and the regional spelling bee. Anything else?

A: “Just found out I’m also going to the state Geography Bee. Hopefully, with three cracks, I can win something.”

Q: Other than the electric guitar and all the academics, is there anything else you do?

A: “He lives and breathes baseball,” said his mother.

Haley Gordon, 12, Woodland Middle School, Coeur d’Alene

The slight, blond girl seems like many pre-teens: a little attitude, fashion conscious, likes to shop and is sassy to her mom.

But she’s looking forward to her first regional spelling competition. Gordon has competed in spelling bees since fourth grade.

Q: What words have you misspelled in previous contests?

A: “I misspelled philosophy in the fifth grade.”

Q: How did you become such a good speller?

A: “When I was in the first grade my mom was my teacher, and she always wanted me to be the best I could be, so she worked with me a lot.”

Q: How do you practice your spelling?

A: “My mom works with me at home. She reads the words to me and marks the ones I get wrong, and we go back over them.” She says she’s a better speller walking around than sitting down.

Q: What other activities are you involved in?

A: “I play soccer for the Coeur d’Alene Sting (a competitive soccer club).” She started playing soccer at 4 years old. She also plays the flute in middle school band.

Q: Is there an advantage to being a good speller?

A: “It helps you a lot with other subjects in school.”

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A: “I really want to be a fourth-grade teacher.”

Rebekah and Esther Pinkerton, home-schooled, Rockford Bay

The sisters are home-schooled by their mother, Kathryn.

Apparently, she’s done commendable work teaching them the foundations of spelling; four of the nine Pinkerton children have competed in the regional spelling bee since it started.

But only Rebekah and her older sister, Rachel, now 16, have advanced to nationals. Esther plans to follow in her sisters’ footsteps.

Rebekah, 12, won the regional bee in 2011 to earn a spot in the nationals.

Q: What word did you spell to make it to the national bee?

A: “Bezoar.”

Q: You made it to the third round of the national bee, the written portion; what word did you miss?

A: “I misspelled several.” Her goal this year: to make it to the fourth round or the finals.

Q: How do you practice?

A: “I use two computer programs mainly, and Papa does spelling bees around the dinner table.”

Q: When did you discover you were good at spelling?

A: “In the third grade, I beat all the area’s (home-schooled) eighth-graders, except my sister, Rachel.”

Q: Other than spelling, what else do you like to do?

A: “I really enjoy taking care of my alpaca.” She also loves horseback riding.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

A: The sixth-grader types 75 words per minute, her mother said.

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A: “A horse trainer.”

Esther, fifth grade, just turned 11.

This is her second time going to the regional bee.

Q: What do you like to read?

A: “I tend not to go for thick books because they are thick.”

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

A: “I was a dreamer when I was younger.”

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A: “I want to be a mommy at home with my kids.” But she’s also considering midwifery.

Roxanne Koler, 10, Lutheran Academy of the Master, Hayden Lake

The bright-eyed fourth-grader bounces a little in her seat as she ponders her spelling abilities.

Koler won her fourth-grade bee by spelling “telepathic,” she said. Although she’s going to the regional bee, the pre-teen doesn’t have her sights set on nationals because “I don’t especially like speaking into a microphone,” she said.

Q: Other than spelling, what else do you like to do?

A: “I like to dance and do gymnastics. I take horseback riding lessons in the summer.”

Q: What’s your favorite subject in school?

A: “English, all of it. I just had to write a fictional story, ‘The Kingdom of Ethius.’ ” Ethius, a black stallion, fights to keep his reign over the kingdom and loses.

Q: How do you practice your spelling?

A: “Writing it down helps me remember. I write each word five times. Also, learning Latin in school helps me be a good speller.”

Q: What are your favorite animals?

A: “Horses, dogs and pigs.”

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A: “A horse trainer.”

There are three comments on this story »