Samantha Saez new queen bee of CMS spelling

Posted 2/14/20

Samantha Saez’s victory was “inevitable” after she correctly spelled that word on stage at Cleveland Middle School during the annual Mildred Maupin Spelling Bee. Middle schoolers spelled …

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Samantha Saez new queen bee of CMS spelling


Samantha Saez’s victory was “inevitable” after she correctly spelled that word on stage at Cleveland Middle School during the annual Mildred Maupin Spelling Bee. 

Middle schoolers spelled through 16 rounds of words varying from the “usual” to the “antiquated.” Cynthia Van Pelt, RTI director for Cleveland Middle School, said coordinators for the annual spelling contest choose words from lists, past and present, given by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. 

Sixteen rounds of spelling were the longest Van Pelt could remember in the bee’s recent history. In six of those rounds, no one misspelled a single word, though there were some deep breaths taken on words like “bedlam” and “collision.” 

Contestants are allowed to ask for the pronunciation of the word, its definition, origin and its use in a sentence. While some turned to sounding out words in a quiet whisper, others tried using their fingers to write the word on their hands as they stood at the microphone. Student Lena Rodante could be seen using this method before she correctly spelled the word “charred.” 

Saez said she thought she was a goner when she was one of the final three and had to spell “undulating” in Round 12. 

This was her third try in the annual contest. Her first year, she was eliminated on her first word. 

“I just wanted to come back and do better,” she said. 

The next year she claimed fourth place, high enough to go on to the Regional Spelling Bee with the other top five from Cleveland Middle School. First place for her meant a plaque, a $100 prize and bragging rights. 

The difference this year, she said, was that she didn’t actually study. 

That might change in time for the regional competition at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. 

Canyon Williams came in second. After conquering words like “psychoanalysis” and “labyrinth,” he stumbled and misspelled “omniscient” in Round 16, resulting in Saez being crowned the winner. Williams still went home with $50, and a chance to advance to the Regional Spelling Bee, along with the other top five spellers at his school. 

To study, his mother quizzed him three to four days a week leading up to the competition. 

“I’m so proud of him,” mom Nicole Duckett said. “He worked so hard and he deserves it.” 

Duckett spelled with his mom, grandparents Kevin and Deborah Collins, and great-grandparents W.W. Johnson and Joyce Johnson in the audience. 

Saez greeted her dad with a big smile and a hug when she came off stage. Her parents said they were happy for their daughter, and Saez said she would be hitting the vocabulary lists again soon in preparation for regionals. 



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