Standing calm and collected at a wooden lectern on Thursday, Triangle Day School fifth grader Jason Sorin spelled out the letters correctly to become the 2017 Duke University Regional Spelling Bee champion.
Placing first in the regional competition secured his spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., where nearly 300 spellers from across the country will convene in late May and face difficult words and their homonyms, alternative pronunciations, definitions and languages of origin.
“I didn’t really think I could win this,” said Sorin, 11. “This is only my second year actually doing this. … I just can’t believe it.’’
Caroline Lazarus, an eighth grader at Charles W. Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough and the daughter of Duke photographer Jared Lazarus, was named the runner-up.
This is the eighth annual Duke University Regional Spelling Bee organized by the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, and 58 elementary and middle school students participated in the bee at Durham’s Riverside High School on March 11. To be invited to the regional competition, these students had to win their individual school’s spelling bee. Sorin won the bee at Triangle Day School in Durham by spelling the word “diminuendo,” which means a decrease in loudness.
After four hours of spelling and 11 rounds, the regional competition on March 11 was deadlocked between four spellers: Sorin, Caroline Lazarus of Charles W. Stanford Middle School, Evan Fahringer of Chapel Hill Homeschoolers, and Isabel LingYu Peng Murray of Durham School of the Arts.
In order to determine one winner for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the four spellers were invited back to a Spell-Off at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Durham on Thursday. Their families and members of the media were in attendance, and the “Final Four” Spell-Off lasted five rounds.
“We are so proud of these four students and what they’ve already accomplished,” said Lou Rollins, emcee of the spelling bee and director of special projects for the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs. “This is a great event for Durham, Duke, your families and the region.”
Duke Vice President for Durham and Regional Affairs Phail Wynn Jr. served as spelling bee pronouncer; Sam Miglarese and Channa Pickett from the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs served as judges; and April Dudash with the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs served as record keeper.
Jason Sorin’s family was in the audience, to include his father, Daniel, who is a professor in the Duke Electrical and Computer Engineering department, 7-year-old sister, Julie, and mother, Deborah. Deborah said she and Jason spent time going over hundreds of words before the regional bee. She added Jason also loves to read and has a great memory for words, and last year, he participated in the Duke University Regional Spelling Bee and was eliminated in Round 3.
When asked what was going through her mind when Jason received the word “symmetrical” at the Spell-Off, Deborah said she knew at that point her son’s regional victory was possible.
“We’re thrilled,” Deborah said. “He put a lot of time into studying.”
The Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs is sponsoring the Sorin family’s trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 28 through June 3. Sorin will also receive a digital copy of “Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged,” and a 2016 United States Mint Proof Set from Scripps.
For more information about the national competition, visit spellingbee.com.
Fifth grader and Duke Regional Spelling Bee champion Jason Sorin poses with Phail Wynn Jr., Duke’s vice president for Durham and Regional Affairs.