The fourth time was the charm for Erin Welch of Princess Anne at the 2017 Maryland Eastern Shore Regional Spelling Bee.
The eighth-grader from St. Francis de Sales Catholic School in Salisbury bested 26 other competitors Saturday to win the title of the Lower Shore's best speller.
Welch, 13, had previously competed in three other regional spelling bees sponsored by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and was runner-up twice.
Her win qualifies her to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in late May.
Welch spelled 19 words correctly, including the “championship” word - solvency.
The runner-up was a first-time competitor, Isabel Mena, a 10-year-old fifth-grader from Pemberton Elementary School in Salisbury. James Gordy, a sixth-grader from Somerset Intermediate School in Westover. was the second runner-up.
Mena and Welch dueled head-to-head for four rounds before Mena stumbled on “transaction.” Welch immediately spelled “becloud” correctly and then solvency to wrap up the win.
Unlike previous rounds, where she employed a tried-and-true strategy of asking questions about each word she was tasked to spell, Welch hesitated only momentarily before knocking down the final word.
Welch's principal, Rob Costante, was in the darkened auditorium sporting a St. Francis school spirit t-shirt that read “Penguin Pride.”
The irony of the competition was that in an earlier round, Welch randomly was asked to spell the word for the flightless bird. She stuck to routine, going through the progression of questions before calmly spelling out “p-e-n-g-u-i-n.”
Sofie Welch, Erin's mother, said Erin was intent on finishing her career as a competitive speller by winning the 2017 event. Only students in grades three through eight are eligible under Scripps National Spelling Bee rules.
“She was practicing 400 words an hour, at one point,” Mrs. Welch said. “We are so proud of her.”
Costante, Erin's principal, said “no one is more deserving than Erin. She is a terrific student and takes challenges like this one seriously.”
Among those in Welch's cheering section was two-time Maryland Eastern Shore Regional Spelling Bee champion, Gia Bautista, who is a family friend.