DODEA students go toe-to-toe, cerebellum-to-cerebellum in spelling battle

Khalista Talingdan of Hohenfels Elementary School spells out "transect" in the fifth round of the 2019 European PTA Regional Spelling Bee on Saturday Feb. 23, 2019.


By WILL MORRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 23, 2019

RAMSTEIN, Germany — It started with the word "barley" and 25 eager students. It ended more than three hours – and some 31 anxiety-filled rounds – later, with one student left standing waving his fists in the air.

Robert Rasmussen, a 13-year-old, 7th grade student at Netzaburg Middle School and the son of two DODEA educators, sealed his victory at the 2019 European PTA Spelling Bee with the word "quaff."

His closest competitor, Nicholas Biega, a student at Landstuhl Elementary/Middle School, was taken out seconds earlier by “poplin” a word for a clothing material made of cotton. 

By the rules of the Bee, Robert had to spell “quaff” correctly, or Nicholas, despite his spelling mistake, would have gotten a second chance to continue in the competition.

After winning, Robert said he wasn’t totally sure he was spelling the word “quaff” right even as each letter left his mouth. He had heard the word only once and had never used it before, not to mention ever doing it in real life. Although quaff means to drink heartily, it is a term usually reserved for alcoholic beverages. Usually for beer.

“I was thinking, 'I have a 50-50 chance to get it',” Robert said.


Robert endured some 30 other rounds, spelling out a litany of words ranging in difficulty from “kith” of the “kith and kin” variety, to “hawthorn” a shrub.  Robert will now be sent to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee held in Washington, D.C. May 26 to May 31.

Students came from all over Europe, 3rd through 8th grade, to compete in the Bee with one student, Damia Azlan, a 5th grader from Ankara Elementary/High School coming from as far as Turkey. All the students had won a spelling contest at their own school before moving on to the regional competition. The students were then given a 300-word spelling list but also had to be ready to spell any word in the Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.

Students were eliminated on a regular basis throughout the competition until round 12 when only five remained. The students then fought each other successfully until round 17, when Madeline Sword of Grafenwoehr Elementary stumbled on the word “middling.” Jonnen Messer, last year’s winner, fell out when he misspelled “divvy.” Asenath Wetzel misspelled “locution” in round 25, leaving Robert and Nicholas to battle each other for six more tension-filled rounds.

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Robert Rasmussen, a seventh-grader at Netzaberg Middle School, smiles Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, after winning the 2019 European Regional PTA spelling bee. Rasmussen won on the word "quaff."