Eleven million young people
begin their spelling journey at thousands
of local competitions held across the United
States, Canada and other countries such as Jamaica
and the Bahamas. Round by round, the
best spellers advance through grueling tests
and preliminary tournaments to make it to the
Scripps National Spelling Bee hosted every
year near Washington, D.C.
On Monday, May 27, the top 565 spellers
in North America sat down to take the preliminary
tests at the Gaylord National Resort and
Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.
Dozens of students came from larger states
like California and New York. But only one
brave student stepped up to represent Wyoming
– seventh-grader Jackie Meador from
Big Piney Middle School.
“The experience was nerve-wracking and
kind of scary,” he said from the National Zoo
on Monday. “It made me anxious because I
didn’t know what word was going to come up.
I just had to concentrate on the word and block
everything else out. But it was also exhilarating.”
On Tuesday, May 28, the spellers were
divided into groups for the first preliminary
spelling rounds in the spotlight. The competition
is intense – one mistake on a single letter
ends the competition for an unfortunate
Hundreds of families and fans packed the
auditorium, and the competition was streamed
live on ESPN. Meador was speller number
526, and had to wait most of the day to stand
up on stage and spell his word. Meador’s
word, “duomo,” is not frequently used in everyday
speech in English. The word is of Italian
origin, and means cathedral.
Meador spelled the word correctly before
his time was up and advanced with 518 spellers
to round three.
On Wednesday, Meador stood up again on
the stage as Dr. Jacques Bailly, the competitions’
official pronouncer and a former national
champion, read the word “incapacitate”
Meador was lucky and said that he already
knew the words in round two and three, and
was far from incapacitated by either one. At
the end of the day, Meador was one of 369
spellers still in the competition.
Spelling bee officials narrowed the roster
down to 50 finalists based on scores from
Monday’s test. Unfortunately, Meador’s
score was just shy of making it into the final
rounds and he ended up tying for 51st place.
However, the young speller still has boasting
rights for making it that far and showed a lot
of courage representing the state of Wyoming
through some extremely tough competition.
Meador plans to compete again next year,
and said that he will focus more on the definitions
of words rather than just the spelling to
get a higher score on the test.
Most people Meador met knew something
about Wyoming, but Meador said he did have
to explain where the state was to people they
met outside of the competition.
A highlight to the trip was meeting people
from all over the country and world.
“There were a lot of kids there – kids from
other countries too,” Meador said. On the last
day of competition, the kids got some much
needed time off in the pool. Meador said he
made new friends from Hawaii, the Bahamas,
South Korea, Japan and Jamaica.
Standing up on stage to spell some of the
hardest and most obscure words in the dictionary
with the nation watching is daunting. The
staff, however, were all very kind and helpful,
Meador said, making the experience a little less
overwhelming. While Dr. Bailly seemed stern
and professional during the televised rounds,
Meador said that the official pronouncer was
“pretty awesome” behind the scenes.
Meador clinched his spot at the national
spelling bee when he won the championship
at the Wyoming State Spelling Bee in March.
Meador told the Examiner on April 2 that
the key to good spelling is reading a lot. He
had just finished reading Stephen King’s novel
“It’s got a lot of pages,” Meador said. “If
there’s a word I don’t understand, I try sounding
it out and then look it up. Occasionally a
word from the spelling bee list shows up (in
In addition to Stephen King, Meador enjoys
fantasy series. He listed J.K. Rowling’s “Harry
Potter” books, “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the
Rings” trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein and the “Artemis
Fowl” collection by Eoin Colfer.
Getting ready for a tournament requires a
lot of work, Meador said on April 2. He spends
up to three hours studying words when he does
not have school, and practices for an hour on
Many of the words that spelling bee competitors
learn originate from languages other
“Most of the words are from a foreign language
and they are all used in English letters,”
Meador explained on April 2. “There are a lot
of Greek words that we use – there are a lot
of rules for Greek words. Russian and Slavic
languages really don’t have as many rules, and
that makes them harder to spell.”
Meador said the family is enjoying their
visit to Washington, D.C. In addition to the
National Zoo, the family hit the Smithsonian
Natural History Museum and the National Spy
Museum and plans to tour the White House
“The spy museum was my favorite,” he
said. “They had on display bunch of different
gadgets, including a gun-concealing hat.”
By the numbers
• 565 spellers made it to the 2019
Scripps National Spelling Bee. Spellers
come from every state in the U.S., Canada
and other countries like the Bahamas, Germany,
Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South
Korea. Many states send several spellers.
Only one speller represented Wyoming:
Jackie Meador of Big Piney.
• At the beginning of the competition,
the spellers have to take a test on spelling
words and vocabulary. Here are examples:
grok, rucervine, sobornost, diel, dissilient,
flak, exculpatory, cyclopean, tritaph and
dianoia. How many do you know?
• 295 spellers this year were male, while
270 were female.
• Spellers ranged in age from 7 to 15.
The largest age represented was 13 at 169
competitors. The spellers’ grade levels
went from first- through eighth-grade. The
largest grade represented was eighth with
• Most of the contestants are from
public schools at 65.5 percent of the roster.
Private school students made up 20
percent of the competition, followed by
parochial school students at 6.2 percent,
charter school students at 3.9 percent,
home schooled students at 4.2 percent and
one student going to school online.
• The first national spelling bee took
place more than 90 years ago in 1925.
The Louisville Courier-Journal hosted the
event. National spelling bees were conducted
every year except 1943, 1944 and
1945 when World War II was raging.
• The state with the most national champions
is Texas with 11. Ohio is second
with nine, followed by Colorado, Pennsylvania
and Tennessee with seven. To date,
there are no national spelling champions
• This year, eight winners were declared
national champions for the first time in history
when the bee officials ran out of words
with eight contestants still on the stage.