“May I please have the definition?”
That’s the question Jesse Stephenson of Clayton asked the pronouncer of “weimaraner,” his second-round word in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Stephenson was among 281 spelling champions from around the world and one of 14 North Carolina spellers in the bee, which was held May 28-30 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. In March, Stephenson won the Johnston County Spelling Bee.
The first round of the national bee began with a computer-based spelling of 24 words and a computer-based vocabulary assessment of 24 definitions, which Stephenson completed May 28. Rounds two and three had the students on stage in front of a live audience and millions of viewers spelling a word out loud.
From there, the top 42 spellers advanced to the semifinals. Only 11 spellers advanced to the final round, which drew millions of television viewers. Arvind Mahankali of New York, a fourth-year competitor who finished third in two previous bees, won the title.
Although Stephenson misspelled his word by one letter in round two and was eliminated, he and his family said they enjoyed sitting in the audience and trying to spell the words the remaining spellers received in the following rounds.
When asked about his experience on stage, Stephenson said he was a little nervous with all of the cameras pointed at him. “It was much easier to focus during the computer assessments because it was one on one with just (the pronouncer’s) voice over the headphones,” he said.
The day before the event, Stephenson told his mom he was not nervous about competing against the other spellers because, “God decided long before I was born what the outcome would be, and whatever was going to happen would be part of God’s plan for me.”
Not every activity at the bee was geared toward spelling. On May 27, all of the spellers and their families took part in a Memorial Day picnic at a park near Washington, D.C. Later in the week, Stephenson and his family toured historic Alexandria, Va., and Washington, D.C. The week ended with a Champion’s Banquet, where all of the spellers were recognized for their accomplishments.
“The bee was a great experience,” Stephenson said. “I liked being here meeting people from around the world, like China, Korea, and Japan. I really appreciate the opportunity to have the experience.”
His advice to future spelling bee participants is to study a lot before the competition and talk to previous champions to learn as much about the experience as possible. “Scripps offers a lot of online practice words,” Stephenson said. “You need to do as many of those as possible because that is like it is here.”
Cary Lane Cockrell is coordinator of the Johnston County Spelling Bee. “We are extremely proud of Jesse and his performance,” she said. “He represented Johnston County well and really seemed to enjoy the experience. We will use his experience to improve our local bee to better prepare our champion for next year’s national competition.”
Stephenson is the 14-year-old son of Mike and Sonya Stephenson. He is an eighth-grader at Southside Christian School in Clayton.