“Wonderful things happen at spelling bees, and sad things as well,” he told the six spellers, the top three from both Lee County and Tupelo districts.
“You are already winners because you’ve made it this far. Just do your best.”
After seven rounds, all but three spellers were felled by words like “iniminable,” “catkin,” and “pretzel,” and when third-place speller Victor Milev was eliminated by the word “depilatory,” soon-to-be victor Maria Kaltchenko knew her prize was within reach.
“I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I read a lot and studied collections of words online.”
Maria, a Milam sixth-grader, kept her cool through the rapid exchange with second-place finisher Jacob Roland until round ten, when Jacob, a Guntown seventh-grader, fell prey to “parlance.”
Spelling rules dictate that when a competitor misspells a word, the remaining speller must spell his or her word for the round, as well as a finishing word. Coming to the competition with the first-place crown within her district, Maria Kaltchenko was no stranger to pressure.
Having already breezed through “charisma,” she gracefully sealed the win.
“K-i-n-e-t-i-c,” she said.
And with that, Maria will proceed to the Mid-South Spelling Bee held in Memphis on March 2. The winners of that competition will spell for the top title at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. in May.
The 10-year-old is optimistic about her chances.
“I knew almost every word they said today,” she said. “I’m just going to try to stay calm and take each word one at a time.”
Kaltchenko’s mother, Svetlana Kaltchenko, revealed her daughter also speaks French as well as Russian, and enjoys classic books like “Emma” and “Jane Eyre.” “She did almost everything by herself,” she said. “She’s very determined. Even when she’s nervous, she can pull herself together.”
Tutor said he has seen spellers come and go, but he sees something special in Kaltchenko.
“She’s going to do great,” he said. “This competition can’t be won by sounding words out. The winners are the ones who can see the word in their mind, and that’s what she does.”