Grafenwoehr 5th-grader plays it cool in winning European spelling bee
By ANDREW YURKOVSKY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 28, 2016
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Participants in the European PTA Spelling Bee on Saturday displayed the kind of confidence and composure that would have put most adults to shame.
In fact, they were so cool they probably could have bluffed the world’s best poker player. Even those who flubbed a word didn’t miss a beat.
Yet 11-year-old Ella Scheuermann was getting nervous and a little bit weary after the 24th round of the 34th annual event, held at Ramstein Elementary School. She asked to break for lunch. When there seemed to be some reluctance from spectators and the two other remaining contestants, she agreed to go ahead.
As it turned out, Scheuermann needn’t have worried. The Grafenwoehr fifth-grader, who placed second last year, emerged the winner after two more rounds when she spelled the championship word, “perturbed,” correctly.
Thirty-two students from Department of Defense Education Activity Schools participated in the Europe-wide spelling bee, open to those from grades 3 to 8.
Scheuermann now goes on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which takes place in Washington in May. She’ll use her prize from Saturday’s event, the massive Webster’sThird New International Dictionary, to study for the national competition.
The second-place winner was Madelynn Valles, 12, a sixth-grader at AFNorth International School in Brunnsum, Netherlands.
Together with Scheuermann, Valles appeared to breeze through the competition without a sweat, a smile on her face the whole time. Her streak ended with the word “grovel,” whose rendering by the contest “pronouncer” she seemed to have trouble recognizing. She spelled it “grauvel.”
Third place was taken by Tyler Hawkins of Ramstein Intermediate School, who was flummoxed by the word “masonry,” which he spelled “masenry.”
Scheuermann is such a consistently correct speller that she’s probably more accurate than a computer’s spell-check. She reportedly has gotten only one less-than-perfect score in all of her weekly spelling tests — back when she was in the first grade. “I was super mad!” she said, speaking to a reporter after the competition.
She’s developed some special techniques for staying cool.
“I have these rituals,” she said. “After I get a word wrong, I drink a bit of water and swallow it in two gulps.” Before it’s her turn, she tenses up and then relaxes.
As high as the stakes were in Saturday’s spelling bee, there was little drama. The most exciting moment came when Angel Torio, a student at Netzaberg Elementary School in Germany, re-entered the competition after judges ruled that a word he had misspelled had been given to him with an incorrect pronunciation. The fourth-place contestant jumped back onto the stage. His competitors seemed to share in the joy of his good fortune.
Ella Scheuermann, a fifth-grader at Grafenwoehr Elementary School in Germany, shows her certificate of participation after winning the 34th Annual Spelling Bee, conducted at Ramstein Elementary School, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. To her left are Crystal Lewis, the spelling bee's chairwoman, who holds up Scheuermann's prize, a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, and Mary Beth Mitchell, the PTA's student vice president from Stuttgart High School, who prepares to hang on the winner's medal.
ANDREW YURKOVSKY/STARS AND STRIPES