After an admirable show of poise and confidence, 12-year-old Myrtle Beach resident Henry Hein was cut from the Scripps National Spelling Bee, despite spelling correctly in the live competition. He just didn’t score high enough on a written preliminary test to qualify for the final round.
Of the 284 spellers who competed at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in a Washington suburb, only 45 advanced Thursday to the final round, which is an out-loud, spell-till-you-drop style contest, designed to leave only one speller standing. Hein fell just three points short of a qualifying score on the written exam.
“I’m feeling pretty content,” Henry said. “Even though I put in a lot of time and effort, the kids that moved on have been working for years and deserve to get farther.”
On Wednesday, Henry correctly spelled both of his words in the verbal portion of rounds two and three — “revenant” and “tabernacle.”
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Henry correctly spelled both of his words in the verbal portion of rounds two and three — “revenant” and “tabernacle.”
The eighth grader at Ocean Bay Middle School appeared confident on stage, approaching the microphone calmly with both hands in his pockets. He greeted pronouncer Jacques Bailly in Burmese, his first language.
“In South Carolina, we have a huge Burmese community, and I’m so proud to represent them,” Henry said.
His parents emigrated from Burma in 2002 and settled in Myrtle Beach in 2008. Kyaw Hein, Henry’s father, said they were committed to preserving their culture and made sure that Henry learned to read and write fluently in Burmese.
“Initially, we worried he would struggle with English, but when he started pre-school he didn’t have any problems,” Hein said.
Henry excelled academically and skipped fourth grade at Carolina Forest Elementary, and then seventh grade at Ocean Bay Middle School. His reading level is so high, the school library orders books appropriate for him.
“He hasn’t had many opportunities to compete in the National Spelling Bee because he skipped over so many grades,” Hein said.
He hasn’t had many opportunities to compete in the National Spelling Bee because he skipped over so many grades.
Kyaw Hein, Henry’s father
His parents are proud of their son’s accomplishments and say he is in good company among the hundreds of other contestants who were eliminated from the competition on Wednesday. Henry said he wanted to compete for the prize money, but also for the opportunity to interact with students his age with a similar interest in the English language.
“It’s been a great experience making new friends and learning so many new words,” Henry said.
Henry plans to return to Washington in June for the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest and a National Youth Conference. In the fall, he expects to start as a freshman at Scholars Academy in South Carolina.
While his parents worry about his assimilation with older students, they are confident in Henry’s ability to make new friends and thrive.
“He’s a cool kid,” Hein said. “His greatest strength is his adaptability and flexibility.”