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The bell of quittance — Q-U-I-T-T-A-N-C-E — tolled for 15 would-be spelling champions at the Daily Progress Regional Spelling Bee Finals on Saturday. But the judges’ bell did not toll for Henry Mathewes, who came away the new regional champion with that winning word.
Saturday’s regional bee was the first in two years, as COVID-19 had led to cancellation of last year’s bee. The 2020 bee had been one of the last public gatherings before the historic March shutdown of schools, businesses and government offices across the country.
Henry, an eighth-grader at Henley Middle School in Albemarle County, said he prepared for the spelling bee with three lists of words, ranked from easiest to hardest.
“The people who really helped me study the most are my mom for the first spelling bee and my sister and grandmother for this one,” he said.
In fewer than two hours, the field of 16 student-finalists was down to just three — Henry, Seven Gray of Lakeside Middle School and Nicholas Culbertson of Fluvanna Middle School.
Nicholas came in third, after correctly spelling words like “pendulous” and “necrotic,” while Seven, who finished second, spelled “protectorate” and “consternation” with ease.
The bee — which brings together students from public and private elementary and middle schools in Charlottesville, Staunton, Waynesboro and the counties of Albemarle, Augusta, Fluvanna, Greene and Nelson — was postponed by a week due to the winter storm across the region last weekend. Last year the Daily Progress Regional Spelling Bee Finals were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time since the newspaper started holding the bee in 1952.
Richard Alblas, spelling bee coordinator for The Daily Progress, said fewer students participated this year, as not as many schools held school spelling bees this school year due to COVID-19.
“Normally, we have 25 students on stage and this year we had 16 students on stage, so it wasn’t as big as in previous years, but the spellers were just as good as previous years,” he said.
Henry, sponsored by The Daily Progress, will move on to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, held annually at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland. This year’s national finals will take place May 30—June 3.
Albemarle High School’s auditorium was filled with families and supporters of the contestants. Albemarle County Schools Superintendent Matthew Haas was in the audience and congratulated Henry, saying he looked “calm and confident” on the stage.
Students spelled “hipsterism” (the quality or state of being characterized by a keen, informed awareness of or interest in what is new or smart; extremely alert and knowing) and “anime” (a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes), new additions to the 2022 version of “Words of the Champion,” a study guide put out by Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Jane Sathe, features editor at The Daily Progress who is a judge for the bee, said the national bee is working to get more languages of origin and more recently-coined words into the lists sent to the regional bees.
“It was refreshing to see how well the students were ready to tackle very different words,” she said.
“Denticulate” (having small teeth covered with small, pointed projections), “acumen” (keenness and depth of perception, discernment, or discrimination especially in practical matters) and “contrariwise” tripped up students.
Henry said he couldn’t remember the most difficult word he spelled, but he reflected on the most confusing word he heard — wearisome.
“The word that I was confused about was ‘wearisome,’ because I thought they’d said ‘worrisome,’” he said.
Catriona Shuve, a seventh-grader at Jackson P. Burley Middle School and family friend of Henry’s, asked for a definition — “tiresome, tedious” — and proceeded to spell out W-O-R-R-I-S-O-M-E.
“I could have sworn it was worrisome, but I guess what the judges say goes,” Henry said.
The bell tolled for Catriona.