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by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · April 20th, 2017


Lydia Bitterman, a seventh grade student in the Marion Home School Assistance Program, won the Iowa regional level of the Scripps National Spelling Bee held at Ames on Saturday, March 25, and now heads for the national contest in Washington, D.C. Her parents are Mike and Tara Bitterman.

We spoke with Lydia, Tara and Lydia's younger sister Holly recently to ask about the competition. Lydia said the competition at Marion was "pretty laid-back," and in that contest she was up against only one other student, a fifth-grader.

From that point, she proceeded to the state spelling bee in Ames, with guidance from Karen Theobald, who coordinates the home school spelling bee program for MHSAP. Tara mentioned that they had expected a greater number of students to compete. Only 14 gathered on March 25 at ISU's Hamilton Hall. The Greemlee School of Journalism and Communication paid a fee to host the bee and has done so for a number of consecutive years.

Lydia said what helped her prepare and be successful at the spelling bees is she had started reading at an early age. She used to practice spelling just for fun, and her entry into the bee was sort of to see what it was like. She also participates in memorizing Classical Conversation facts, which involves a once-a-week-meeting and learning from a number of areas such as history, math, geography, and science as well as Latin and English grammar.

After Mrs. Theobald provided the first round of 450 practice words, Lydia then systematically worked on about 20 per day. After winning the home and state bees, the next set of words became available April 7. She is now studying them in preparation for the national event.

The Greenlee School pays Lydia's way to Washington, D.C., as well as expenses for one other person. That will be Tara. However, the whole family - Holly, Mike, and grandparents, Mark and JoAnne Hamilton - is going to the national bee.

The Bittermans found out that around 290 students will participate in the Scripps National Bee, including kids from across the U.S., from six foreign countries and from U.S. territories. This is the 90th anniversary of the National Bee, which makes it a truly special occasion.

The national bee will be held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in D.C. In addition to the bee, students will be able to take a number of tours and celebrate together at a huge picnic on the Capitol lawn.

A number of rules changes have been made for this year's competition. On Tuesday, May 30, will be a Preliminaries Test, consisting of a spelling test and also a multiple choice portion consisting of vocabulary items. This format with handwritten answers had not been used since 2011.

The official source of words is www.unabridged.merriam-webster.com (online) while the previous source had been Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary. That version is now out of print.

The preliminaries will take place on May 30 and 31. They have the written spelling items and a multiple choice vocabulary test on May 30, followed by two rounds of oral spelling onstage on May 31. That afternoon, the Bee officials will email score reports - on a point system - to the parents and spellers. No one is eliminated as a result of the preliminary handwritten test or the vocabulary, only when they have misspelled a word during the oral Round 2 and Round 3.

The finals take place on Thursday, June 1. These consist of oral spelling beginning with Round 4 and continuing with breaks until a champion is declared (or co-champions).

A Tiebreaker Test has been created in the hopes that there will be only one overall winner rather than co-champions as occurred last year. The rules state there are to be no more than 25 consecutive rounds with three or fewer spellers. The Tiebreaker Test will be administered to all spellers remaining as of 6 p.m. on the final day of the bee, June 1. It will consist of 12 spelling words and 12 multiple choice vocabulary items. However, the winning word will be the last one the winner spelled correctly from the oral portion of the competition.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee will be broadcast live starting at 6 p.m. on both Wednesday and Thursday nights. Lydia said it will be available on ESPN3 in this area. Check for local times, as Washington, D.C. is in the Eastern Time Zone and the live broadcast may begin an hour earlier (5 p.m. current Iowa time).
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