2015 'spelldown' @ UMES was uplifting

  • Saturday, March 7, 2015

    Gia Bautista & Erin Welch - 2015 spelling bee finalistsPRINCESS ANNE, MD- (March 7, 2015) - It was déjà vu at the 2015 edition of the Maryland Eastern Shore Regional Spelling Bee on the campus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

    Gia Bautista, the 2014 winner, outdueled Erin Welch in a marathon "spelldown" to repeat as champion. Welch was the 2014 runner-up.

    Each spelled some three dozen words with seeming ease before Erin tripped up on "plummet," omitting one of the "Ms."

    Gia accurately spelled "curate", positioning herself to win the event by spelling one more word: "blustery," the perfect word to describe this past week's weather. She nailed it and the audience in the Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts erupted.

    Gia and Erin went 27 rounds a year ago before Gia emerged as the winner.

    "It's a relief," Gia said as her family offered congratulations. "I really wanted to win again, but I was a little nervous."

    Erin, a 6th grader at St. Francis de Sales Catholic School, was gracious in finishing behind her friend for the second year in a row. She hugged the winner and offered congratulations.

    "Maybe next year," Erin, 11, said with a shrug and smile.

    Gia qualified to represent the lower Eastern Shore at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington May 24-29.

    In addition to an all-expense paid trip to the event awarded by UMES, Gia also received a medallion, a year's subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica online and Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.

    The 44 rounds needed to identify Gia, a 13-year-old 8th grader at Wicomico Middle School in Salisbury, was the longest in the three-year history of the competition sponsored by UMES.

    There was momentary confusion when Gia spelled "rendezvous," but judges gave her a consensus thumbs up after consulting and concluding she indeed had spoken "z" then "v" into the microphone.

    Gia employs a strategy seen at the national level by using a finger to spell the word on her hand as an imaginary tablet, which she said "helps (her) visualize the word."

    Erin's strategy was more subtle; she tapped her leg while effortless spelling all but the last one correctly.

    In addition to the traditional challenge of spelling words, competitors occasionally had to show they knew a word's meaning by answering a multiple-choice question. The national competition now features a computer test requiring competitors to demonstrate they know definitions of words in addition to spelling them correctly.

    Experience from previous regional bees proved crucial as the 2015 field of 43 competitors narrowed to a half dozen. Among that group were Gia's 11-year-old sister, Ava, representing North Salisbury Elementary School, and Gracious Mudoh, a 5th grader from Princess Anne Elementary School.

    Gracious' million-dollar smile and confident stride to the microphone won him the audience's admiration before bowing out in round 19 when he slipped up spelling mozzarella. The 10-year-old was second runner-up.

    Cade Stone, 13, didn't let nervous