In an event marked by alternating moments of almost perfect silence and audible sighs of both relief and amazement from participants and the audience, Nicole Frische, a fifth grader at Allen Elementary School, won the Chattanooga Times Free Press Regional Spelling Bee at UTC on Saturday. With the hard-earned victory comes the right -- and privilege -- of representing the Chattanooga area in the nationally televised Scripps National Spelling Bee in the nation's capital in May.
Assured but not brash, Frische walked to the microphone time after time to spell words with a seeming ease that suggested long hours of dedicated study and an affinity for language. She was not alone in her mastery of words. The other contestants displayed similar determination and ability. The result: A grueling competition that lasted more than two hours and that included about 300 words before all but a handful of the 60 spellers representing schools in 15 counties in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia that began the bee were eliminated.
As is the tradition in spelling bees, the difficulty of the word to be spelled escalated as the number of remaining contestants declined. By the closing minutes of the bee, the contest took on a special cadence of its own. Dr. Valerie Rutledge, pronouncer for the bee, would carefully enunciate the word to be spelled. Members of the audience would sigh or gasp as they recognized the difficulty of the word. The student at the microphone would think about the word, often ask for a definition of the word or to have it used in a sentence or its language of origin. Then he or she would spell it.
More often than not as the contest wound to its conclusion, the word was spelled correctly. That brought an immediate grin or other sign of relief from the participant and an audible but positive response from the audience that filled the hall. And no wonder. The students spelled their way through words that are rarely used in normal conversation and that reflect the variety of sources from which they come. The sustained rounds of applause the greeted the conclusion of every round was well-deserved.
At the end, Frische spelled quibble correctly to bring the bee to its conclusion.
Frische, whose victory Saturday was marked by a well-earned celebration at her school on Monday, will go to Washington and receive other prizes as the bee's first-place finisher, but every student on the stage at UTC Saturday is a winner, as well. Their poise, their intelligence and their competitive spirit prove that.
We congratulate each of them. We acknowledge, too, those -- parents, teachers, classmates, siblings, relatives and friends -- who traveled by their sides on the difficult path to the regional bee.