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The Defiant Veteran looked Contrite in his Portrait

  • Holly Grove's Hannah McCabe is 2020 regional spelling bee champ

    Saturday, March 7, 2020
    Hannah McCabe at the moment she realized she won

    An eighth-grader from Eden who attends Holly Grove Christian School is the 2020 Maryland Eastern Shore Regional Spelling Bee champion. 

    Hannah McCabe said she entered her school-level bee reluctantly, yet performed well enough to qualify for Saturday's eighth-annual competition sponsored by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 

    Hannah and her friend Eliza Nguyen together decided to try their luck at competitive spelling “sort of as a joke.” 

    “I really didn't take it that seriously,” Hannah said with a shrug and shy smile. “I figured 'What did I have to lose'?” 

    Nothing, it turned out. 

    In roughly 70 minutes, the 13-year-old vanquished 23 other spellers with no-nonsense precision to earn a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. the last week of May. 

    The 2020 regional bee had two runners-up; fourth-grader Abigail Tan of Greenwood Elementary School in Princess Anne and Anjan Kharel, a sixth-grader representing Bennett Middle School in Salisbury. Both performed confidently in the early going, but stumbled in the 10th round, opening the door for McCabe, who spelled “celestial” correctly. 

    When that scenario emerged, Hannah was still required to spell one additional word correctly, according to national spelling bee rules. 

    Pronouncer Marilyn Buerkle barely finished saying “defiant” when Hannah responded with the correct spelling.  She froze at the microphone, unsure she had accomplished what several weeks ago she dismissed as a lark.

    Class of 2020 regional spelling bee competitors

    Hannah said she fought off a case of nervousness that did not hit her until the second round, when she spelled "junior" correctly. Other words Hannah nailed included "veteran," "contrite" and "portrait."

    “Then, I got a little competitive,” she said. 

    While spellers are allowed - even encouraged - to ask background questions about words they are presented, Hannah forsook that option. 

    “I just kind of went for it,” she said. 

    When Hannah heard Buerkle pronounce the championship word, she said she realized instantly “I'm going to win this.” 

    It was the identical reaction Chris McCabe, her father, said he had sitting in the audience. 

    “I was nervous for her standing up there” with a chance to win, McCabe said. “Then, I heard the word and said 'oh my gosh, she's going to win this.'” 

    Eliza, who helped Hanna study the 4,000 words in a study guide all school champions are provided, said once her friend made it through the first several rounds, “I knew she was going to go this far.” 

    Hannah “has a way of excelling in a way I don't think she even realizes,” Eliza said. 

    Holly Grove's bee coordinator Elisabeth Hays was in the Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts Center audience rooting for Hannah. As she settled into her seat, Hays remembered thinking “no matter how she does, I'm still proud of her.” 

    Hays said Eliza's peer coaching, helping Hannah plow through words in the study guide her father said he had to look up to check pronunciation, should not be underestimated. 

    “It's great to see one student supporting another having success,” Hays said. 

    So the private school in Westover known for its championship archers can now boast it also is home to the Lower Shore's best speller.