Five thousand words down, 3,000 to go.
After school, Triangle Day School fifth grader Jason Sorin heads home, eats a snack, finishes his homework and then settles into a big, comfy chair where he pores over thousands of potential spelling bee words.
Jason is heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Sunday. He placed first in the eighth annual Duke University Regional Spelling Bee in March after competing against 58 students from Durham and Orange counties and emerging victorious after a four-way spell-off.
To prepare for the national competition May 28 through June 3 in Washington D.C., Jason’s mother, Deborah, found 8,000 words that have been used at past school spelling bees and organized them in a spreadsheet. Almost every day, she and Jason spend a half-hour spelling with the goal of getting 100 new words correct each day. The Sorin family even bought a third edition Merriam-Webster dictionary off eBay to help Jason study for the bee.
“It actually has notches in the sides for the letters,” Jason said about his dictionary. “Some of the words are kind of on the borderline between words and nonsense, like ‘toffee-nosed’ or ‘mugwumpery.’”
Jason, 11, will be among 291 spellers from around the country competing for first place at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Duke Office of Durham & Regional Affairs, which sponsors the regional bee every year for Durham and Orange counties, is also sponsoring the Sorin family’s trip to D.C.
Jason will be Speller No. 22 out of 291. He is used to competing – He participated in the North Carolina National Geographic State Bee in March as well as tests his literary knowledge as part of his school’s “Battle of the Books” team.
He is constantly reading, most recently Terry Pratchett fantasy novels. His parents said that he has a terrific memory and gleans the spelling and meaning of words from books he reads.
“Hey Jay, what do you do when you’re not studying?” asked his dad, Daniel, who is a professor in the Duke Electrical and Computer Engineering department.
“Depends on what you call studying,” Jason responded. “If reading counts as studying, I probably would answer, ‘Not really much.’”
Becoming a nationally recognized speller requires more than just studying. There is also an element of pomp and circumstance involved. Jason’s class at Triangle Day School threw him a party with “Congratulations” balloons, cake and sherbet, and his classmates have even taken spelling bee word tests together for fun.
In D.C. at the national bee, spellers will participate in preliminary rounds of written spelling tests, multiple choice vocabulary tests and onstage oral spelling to determine if they will move on to the finals on June 1. The spellers also have scheduled time to sightsee and attend social events such as tours of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and a barbecue at Nationals Park baseball stadium.
At the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Jason’s family, including his 7-year-old sister, Julie, and both sets of grandparents, will be in the crowd cheering him on. His parents said they are most excited to see him onstage and that the bee gives their son the opportunity to make 290 new friends.
Jason said he’s most excited about the competition itself.
“When it’s in a competition format, everything seems more fun,” he said. “It seems that I’m better under pressure.”
The Scripps National Spelling Bee will be broadcast on ESPN May 31 and June 1. For more information about the 2017 competition, visit the bee website.