CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - For Jade Ray Samanta, spelling isn't just something you do for a grade.
For Jade, a Cape Girardeau resident just finishing up eighth grade at Trinity Lutheran School, it's a gateway to a fierce battle on the national stage as a competitor in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 27-29.
Already twice a victor at the Southeast Missouri Regional Spelling Bee, Jade will be traveling with his family to Washington, D.C., for the chance at not only thousands of dollars in prize money, but the national fame that comes with being a Champion Speller.
"I'm definitely more prepared than last year, and I'm gearing up for the challenge," said Samanta. "I'm looking forward to being up on stage and being back among all the other competitors. It's really exciting."
Jade's journey to the Scripps National Spelling Bee started three years ago, with his first competition into the Southeast Missouri Regional Spelling Bee, held at Three Rivers College in Poplar Bluff. Three Rivers began holding the Regional Spelling Bee in 2009 to provide area students with an official qualifying event for the national competition. Students in grades 1-8 travel from across Southeast Missouri to compete for the right to move on to the nationals. Jade is the second two-time winner of the Regional Spelling Bee, securing his position this year with the word "ribosome."
But while he's the first among equals in the world of Southeast Missouri spellers, the national competition is another league entirely. Each of his fellow spellers is also the victor of a qualifying tournament, and competitors must survive three increasingly punishing qualifying rounds to make it to the finals and a chance at victory. Dozens of spellers will fall in the preliminary testing during the first day—and last year, Jade was among them.
Understandably, Jade has been spending a great deal of his free time training for the spelling bee—a daunting task for adults, much less an eighth grader barely in his teens. The increasing aptitude of spellers has forced Scripps to continually upgrade the difficulty of the words competitors are expected to complete. While early victors of the national tournament were given words like "deteriorating," modern winners contend with such words as "guetapens," "cymotrichous," and "appoggiatura."
Champion spellers rely less on rote memorization than the ability to sound out words, and suss out correct spellings from the minimal definitions and etymologies provided.
"Base memorization will only get you so far," said Samanta, when asked about what kind of practice routine he's been using. "I've been using a lot of online resources, including the ones out on Scripps' website. It's about learning how to make connections between the meanings and pronunciations of a word, and the way the word is spelled."
Despite the challenges, Jade's mother, Jayanti Ray, who is a professor at Southeast Missouri State University; and Mark Sanders, Instructor of English at Three Rivers College and coordinator for the Southeast Missouri Regional Spelling Bee, have faith in Jade's chances of coming out on top.
"It's an ocean of brilliant performers, and the competition is very difficult," Ray said. "But this year, we've been doing a lot of extra preparation, and I think he'll do much better this year than last year."
"Jade is an amazing speller, and he's even more practiced than he was last year," said Sanders, who will be accompanying Jade and his family to Washington, D.C., for the big competition. "He knows what he's up against now, and I don't think that the preliminary test will even slow him down."
Jade, for his part, is determined to make this trip count, given that this is his last year of eligibility. While his younger brother, Justin Ray Samanta, has also begun competing in the Regional Spelling Bee, Jade knows he'll never get another chance at the championship himself. Even if he falls short, however, he says he's still grateful for the experiences that spelling has given him.
"If I do my best, if I give the best performance I possibly can, then it won't be for nothing," Samanta said. "It's just about making this opportunity count."
If you're interested in learning more about the Scripps National Spelling Bee, visit www.spellingbee.com for competitor bios, television broadcast schedules, the rules and regulations of the competition, and more.
For more information on how to compete in the Southeast Missouri Regional Spelling Bee, or to find a participating school in your area, contact Mark Sanders at 573-840-9618, or email@example.com.
For more updates on Jade Ray Samanta's progress, visit the Three Rivers College Facebook Page at facebook.com/threeriverscollege.