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At a glance
What: 86th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee
When: Today through Thursday
Where: National Harbor, Md.
Contestants: 281, including 13 from Indiana. Fifty will advance to the semifinal round, and 12 will advance to the championship round
Television: ESPN3 will broadcast the preliminary rounds from 8 to 11:45 a.m. and 1:15 to 4:45 p.m. Wednesday; ESPN2 will broadcast the semifinal round from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday; and ESPN will broadcast the championship round from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday
Spelling bee

Video of JG speller Kaelyn Bender

Journal Gazette file
Kaelyn Bender spells her way to victory in the regional JG bee in March.

JG champion back 2nd year in DC spelloff

Avilla teen’s strategy? Bee prepared

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette
The Bender sisters – from left, Alyvea, 12, Kaelyn, 14, and Raegan, 10 – pose at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School in Avilla. Kaelyn will compete for the second straight year in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which begins today in suburban Washington, D.C.

– Kaelyn Reigh Bender is a year older, a year more perspicacious.

“Perspicacious” is the kind of word that Kaelyn, 14, might have to spell and define at this week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee in suburban Washington, D.C. “Perspicacious,” originally from Latin, means wise.

This is the second straight year Kaelyn qualified for the national bee by winning the 15-county Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee. Last May, she failed to advance past the preliminary rounds as the field of 278 was thinned to 50 for the semifinal round.

The Noble County resident seems more confident and better prepared this time around.

“Last year, all I did was memorize words. This year, I have been working on the skills to break down the words. Because of the huge expanse of words, I felt that would be the better study tactic,” she said at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School in Avilla, where she will soon complete the eighth grade.

Since the start of the school year, she has been working with retired East Noble School Corp. teacher Bob Avery on etymology, the study of word origin and development. Kaelyn also discovered a vocabulary word-game app that she plays.

Knowing the meaning of words will be critical in this year’s national bee, which begins today and concludes Thursday night. The bee announced in April that for the first time in its 86-year history, it will give spellers written vocabulary tests in the preliminary rounds in addition to written spelling tests.

“I think I have gotten a basic understanding of the prefixes, suffixes, roots of both Latin and Greek,” she said. “It would take years for me to master it to the level I would like to. But I think I have a rudimentary understanding of it that will help me with both the vocabulary and spelling.”

If she needs to cram between rounds, she can turn to Avery and St. Mary teacher Chad Helmkamp. They will join Bender’s family at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

Chris Kemper, public relations manager for the bee, said spelling and vocabulary are “two sides of the same coin” and that knowing one helps a speller learn the other.

In other format changes, the bee has placed a time limit on the written spelling and vocabulary test: 45 minutes. And it will eliminate any contestant who misspells a word in the two-word oral-spelling preliminaries Wednesday.

During last year’s oral-spelling preliminaries, Kaelyn correctly spelled “quisling” but missed “diffa” by leaving out an “f.”

“If you look through the history of the bee, we are always making tweaks and changes,” Kemper said. “We are always trying to improve the competition with the idea of fairness as the most important thing.”

$30,000 for champ

Kaelyn will be speller No. 77 in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The field of 281 competitors, ages 8 to 14, comes from the U.S. and its territories, Canada, Bahamas, Jamaica, Ghana, China, Japan and South Korea.

This will be at least the second national competition for 63 spellers, including Kaelyn, with two girls vying for the fifth time.

The winner will receive $30,000 in cash and a trophy from E.W. Scripps Co.; a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and reference library from Merriam-Webster; and $2,000 in reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica.

The 11 other finalists will receive between $1,500 and $12,500 from Scripps according to their finish.

Some contestants can be robotic during oral spelling, while others are animated and emotional. Many, such as Kaelyn in last year’s bee, are more in the middle: methodical but a tad nervous. What goes through her mind when, standing at the center of the stage in front of TV cameras and hundreds of people, she’s given a word to spell?

“Please let me know this word!” Kaelyn replied in an anxious voice before breaking into laughter.

‘Need to excel’

Kaelyn lives on a farm near Albion with her parents, Craig and Shaney Bender, and sisters Alyvea, 12, and Raegan, 10.

According to her bee biography, Kaelyn is a fan of country singer-songwriter Hunter Hayes and “The Hunger Games” novels by Suzanne Collins, and she wants to pursue a career in veterinary pharmaceutical sales.

She raises and shows livestock and is a member of a Noble County 4-H team that competes in livestock judging. The team recently advanced to a national competition this fall.

Kaelyn was student council president at St. Mary this year and played on a school volleyball team. Last week, she set school records for most push-ups and sit-ups (50 and 60, respectively, in a minute) during a fitness program.

“Kaelyn has this need to excel in absolutely everything she attempts,” Shaney Bender said. “She tries her best to be the best.”

Shaney, an instructional assistant for East Noble School Corp., and Kaelyn practice spelling an hour or two when they can, usually after Kaelyn gets home at night from after-school activities.

“They’ve been up until midnight,” said Craig Bender, assistant vice president of lending at Garrett State Bank in Garrett. “I see what she and her mother do. It’s grueling.”

In an earlier interview, Craig said neither parent pushes Kaelyn.

“She’s taken the initiative, and we’re awfully proud of her for doing that,” he said. “I think she’s a special kid. I’m a little biased, I guess.”

The Journal Gazette’s partners in its 59th regional spelling bee, conducted March 9, were Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, IPFW and law firm Barrett & McNagny.