NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — – Isabella Neubauer took her spot on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington for the fourth year Wednesday morning, spelling the word einkorn correctly to sail on to the next round.
Then she tackled the word grissino — which means pencil-sized breadsticks — with the utmost confidence in round three, but that was as far as she advanced in her final year of eligibility.
Neubauer didn’t make it to Thursday’s semifinals because of her score on a written test that consisted of a mix of spelling and vocabulary. She had been eliminated in the preliminary rounds in her past three attempts.
Before the spelling bee started Neubauer said, “I don’t have next year anymore, so I’ve gotta’ make it this year if I’m ever gonna’ make it.” She was among 281 spellers who made it this week to the national stage.
Neubauer, who will begin 9th grade at the Georgetown School of Arts and Sciences this fall, said she prepared by studying word lists and understanding the Greek or Latin roots of words.
She also has taken Latin at school for the past two years, which gives her an edge in identifying those roots.
Spellers are given the word list to study for the preliminary rounds before the competition. For the semifinal and final rounds, however, judges are able to choose from Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary, which contains about 470,000 words.
“So that’s when the difficultly level changes,” said Paige Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Scott Neubauer said his daughter always has been an avid reader and began taking part in spelling bees in the 3rd grade. He and his wife Michelle are proud of how far she’s come, he said, and supportive no matter the outcome.
“If there’s any pressure, it’s pressure Isabella puts on herself,” he said. The family is probably more nervous watching from the audience than she is standing up on the brightly lit stage, he said.
But even if she didn’t make it to the final round, Neubauer said she isn’t walking away empty-handed.
“You learn self-confidence,” she said. “And how to be on stage in front of people and not be nervous.”
Which will come in handy next weekend, when Neubauer heads to the National History Bee in Atlanta.
The winner of the National Spelling Bee receives a $30,000 cash prize, along with an engraved trophy and a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster and Encyclopedia Britannica, to keep those spelling skills sharp well into the future.