MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – Tupelo Middle School seventh-grade student Maria Kaltchenko will compete in the National Scripps Spelling Bee after beating 48 opponents at the Mid-South Spelling Bee.
Kaltchenko began to fidget three hours into Saturday’s competition. “I was extremely nervous,” she said.
Still, she pushed through to best all comers — including one she went toe-to-toe with for an hour — to win the event held at the Al Chymia Shrine Center in Memphis, Tenn.
The Commercial Appeal reports the 11-year-old Kaltchenkco went 40 rounds with fellow spellers. The last 24 rounds were against 13-year-old Coleman Swarzfazer of Margaret Green Junior High School in Bolivar County.
“It was such a long battle, but she really wanted to go to Washington,” said mom Svetlana Kaltchenko.
The mother-daughter team will attend the National Scripps Spelling Bee in May. It’ll be Maria Kaltchenko’s first time to the nation’s capital.
“I want to see everything,” she said.
Swarzfazer won the Mid-South bee two years ago. It was the battle with him that caused the visible shift in Kaltchenko.
She would run her hand around her nearly 2-foot long pony tail and flip it behind her, readjust the sleeve on her cardigan and rub at her throat while trying to wrap her mind around each word.
Kaltchenko would spell a word right. But so would Swartzfazer.
Then, he’d spell one wrong and she’d spell one right.
And she’d miss the coming word that would take her to victory. Then, the reverse would happen.
Those final words weren’t on any official preparatory lists the contestants were given to study. They included nullifidian (a person of no faith or religion), Britannic, fossiliferous, autodidact (one who is self-taught) and biomimetics (the study of biologically produced substances and materials and biological mechanisms and processes especially for the purpose of synthesizing similar products by artificial mechanisms which imitate natural ones).
For each, the two seventh-graders would ask for the standard bee favors, which include the part of speech and language of origin. But for words like biomimetrics, Kaltchenko said, it didn’t matter.
“It didn’t follow any common pattern,” she said.
But finally, she spelled hydrography (the description and study of seas, lakes, rivers and other waters) and tardigrade (moving or stepping slowly) back to back for the win.
Maria’s preparation for the National Spelling Bee will include more word lists from the Internet and one from her Saturday prizes.
“I’m guess I’m going to try to learn this dictionary,” she said, barely lifting the 12-pound unabridged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language.