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Portland, Maine, School Takes Its Spelling Bee Online

Originally scheduled to be held in Hannaford Hall on the campus of the University of Southern Maine, the event appeared to be another victim of the coronavirus pandemic until being resurrected in a virtual format.

by Glenn Jordan, Portland Press Herald / June 5, 2020
Mercedes Mehling/Unsplash

(TNS) — Rose Bolduc didn’t know the definition and didn’t ask for one.

When her championship word arrived via Zoom into the computer monitor in her Portland bedroom Thursday evening, Bolduc wanted no complications.

Her immediate thought: “I have no idea what this word is, but I feel like there’s only one way to spell it.”

So she did: O-P-I-N-E.

Her correct spelling of the word, which means to hold and state as one’s opinion, crowned Bolduc as the somewhat surprising champion of the 2020 Maine State Spelling Bee after 32 rounds and nearly two hours.

Originally scheduled to be held March 21 in Hannaford Hall on the Portland, Maine, campus of the University of Southern Maine, the event appeared to be another victim of the coronavirus pandemic until being resurrected in a virtual format Thursday night.

Twelve of the 15 county spelling champions took part, all through their home computers and all on the honor system. Among the 12 was defending state champion Sebastian Shields of Saco Middle School, whose victory last March earned him an expenses-paid trip last May to the Scripps National Spelling Bee outside of Washington, D.C.

The national bee was canceled this year, however, and Thursday’s event, sponsored by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and Dead River Co., offered no grand prize. Each contestant received a smaller package including a backpack, chocolates and popcorn along with the lanyard bearing their name that they would have worn on stage.

Shields, who finished third after offering the wrong second vowel for “analogize” in Round 22, wasn’t the only veteran of the National Bee to compete Thursday night. Rebecca Aponte, a home-schooled seventh-grader from Blue Hill, twice accompanied her older brothers to the Scripps competition held in National Harbor, Maryland. Brandon Aponte won the Maine State Bee in 2013 and Colin in 2018.

Rebecca was runner-up to Shields last spring after missing in the 49th round. On Thursday night, Bolduc omitted the ‘w’ from ‘millwright’ in Round 27 to give Aponte an opening. But after perfect spelling through 26 rounds that included several words culled from supplemental lists that are separate from the study lists put out by Scripps, Aponte used the wrong vowel in the first syllable of “pallbearer” and Bolduc remained alive. Like Shields, Aponte offered ‘o’ instead of ‘a’.

“I was thinking I was gone,” Bolduc said later. “But then I sort of half-listened, because I thought, I don’t know what a pallbearer is, either.”

Both girls spelled perfectly through three more rounds – at 13 Bolduc is not old enough to remember “Xerox” but she guessed correctly and Aponte was not fazed by “foozle” – before Aponte messed up the first part of “mealymouthed” in Round 31 to set up Bolduc’s championship word.

After head judge Michael Ashmore declared Bolduc champion, the screen cut back to a heartwarming scene in Bolduc’s bedroom, with parents Sean Bolduc and Amelie Veegaert embracing their daughter.

“They were there the whole time, on the corner of my bed,” Rose said. “At first I thought (competing online instead of on stage) was going to be more difficult, but it ended up being easier because my parents were with me in my room, and that really helped me get motivated.”

Bolduc becomes the second straight seventh-grader to win the State Bee. Prior to Shields’ victory, there had been five consecutive eighth-grade champions. Contestants age out after finishing middle school.

Thursday’s bee started with two perfect rounds before the first misspelling eliminated one of two sixth-graders. The one who remained, Androscoggin County champ Meghan Rivard of Turner Elementary School, hung in through 11 rounds and finished fifth overall. She even outlasted a pair of eighth-graders with previous state bee experience.

Both Vir Singh Ranger of Greater Houlton Christian Academy (third in 2019) and Nina Dabas of Mount Merici Academy (tied for second as a fifth-grader in 2017) were eliminated in Round 8 by off-list words “typify” and “transducer,” respectively.

Abby Case, an eighth-grader from Hermon Middle School in her first state bee, lasted 16 rounds and finished fourth.

Bolduc admitted that she hadn’t studied much since the March announcement that the state bee was off, and it showed in her hesitant spellings of “huckabuck” in Round 10 and “dextral” in Round 30.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “Honestly, I never thought I would be able to do it.”

©2020 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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