RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – The ability to spell under pressure apparently runs in families.
At least that’s the case with the Dayapremas from Vicenza, Italy.
With three-time European spelling bee champion Anuk Dayaprema too old to compete this year, the mantle fell to younger sister Selomi — an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Vicenza Middle School — to keep the family’s streak alive.
Appearing composed and relaxed at the microphone during the 32nd annual European PTA Spelling Bee on Saturday, Selomi breezed to the title in a quick 12 rounds.
Selomi outlasted 28 contestants in grades three through eight from DODDS schools across Europe — a group that included at least one homeschooler.
Most spellers hung on until the third round, when the words became noticeably harder. The first word in round 3 to be misspelled was “julep.” Other words that tripped up contestants included “anchovy,” “kabuki,” and “automaton.”
One misspelled word equaled elimination.
After each round, those knocked out returned to the audience, some crying on a parent’s shoulder.
As the ranks began to thin, the bee seemed it might go the distance like last year’s 29 rounder. Headed into round 12, Selomi shared the stage in the Ramstein Elementary School cafeteria with two other unflappable spellers: Perry Potasi, a sixth-grader from Hohenfels Elementary School and last year’s runner-up, and Ryan Rayos, a sharply-dressed fifth-grader from Naples Elementary School, Italy, who finished fifth in the 2013 European bee.
But four words later, only Selomi remained. In round 12, the contest moved away from the 1,150-some-words “Spell-It” guide contestants could review in advance.
Selomi first spelled “profound” correctly. Then Perry stumbled on “aflutter,” spelling “affluttered,” and Ryan missed “cutthroat,” uttering c-u-t-t-h-r-o-a-g-h.
Selomi easily spelled the championship word, “contented,” for the win, as her parents watched on from the front row.
The pressure to win was great, she said afterwards. There were the big shoes of her whiz-of-a-speller brother to fill, and she didn’t want to let her school or parents down.
She studied hard, but not every day. “I really don’t believe in two hours a day of studying. Sometimes I did, but I also” tried to make it fun, she said.
Army Master Sgt. Ganege Dayaprema said he told his daughter “first thing, you should not panic.” And ask questions; spellers are allowed to inquire about a word’s language of origin, its meaning, part of speech, among other queries.
With the win, Selomi moves on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May, where she’ll represent the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe.
Perry and Ryan went head-to-head for about a dozen rounds for second place.
At stake, was the alternate for the national competition, in the event Selomi can’t go.
Ryan prevailed on “parlance” and “frustrated.”
“I feel actually pretty good,” he said afterwards, while eating lunch with his family.
Ryan’s mom, Gloria Rayos, helped him study “every day, at least two hours a day,” but she had butterflies, despite her son’s intense preparation. “I’m always nervous,” she said. “That’s why I can’t sit in the front row.”