Grace Leuchtenberger and Cassandra Luca Place Top 2 in Spelling Bee

Photos by Rhea Dudani

By Noy Alon and Gavi Azoff
Managing Editor of News and News Reporter

This past Friday, South held the annual spelling bee, which allowed this year’s selected students to test their knowledge in an inviting and light-hearted competition.

All students in this final round had to successfully pass the preliminary in class round with a score of 16 words correct out of 20 and then rise above other students in the semi final round.

Senior Cassandra Luca, who was named the runner up of the spelling bee, appreciates South’s celebration of accomplished spellers and how enjoyable the competition is.

“I like the spelling bee, and I’ve always thought it was really fun. It’s one of those geeky nerdy things that we kind of celebrate, but I never prepare because I just want to see how far I get without it. It’s just supposed to be a fun thing,” said Luca.

Similarly, Grace Leuchtenberger, who won this year’s spelling bee, did not prepare for the event and relied on her natural ability to excel in the competition.

“I think I’ve always been a pretty decent speller like you know those third grade or fourth grade spelling tests, they were never really that difficult for me,” said Leuchtenberger.

Leuchtenberger describes how even though she did not prepare for the competition and tried to keep her attitude more positive and carefree, over the course of the bee, she became more nervous and started to take it more seriously.

Agreeing with Leuchtenberger, Luca also remained nervous as she hoped to avoid a repeat experience of her previous appearance in this final round.

“I was really worried that I would be the first person to get out because when I was in it sophomore year I spelled the first word right. It was fine, and then I spelled my second word wrong. I was the first one to get out and it was so embarrassing,” said Luca.

However, this year, Luca’s strategy of presenting herself with confidence, paid off as she finished second overall.

English teacher Jeremiah Hill organizes the spelling the bee and reveals that a challenge for him remains ensuring that the final list of words become increasingly difficult.

“The final list is always a challenge because you want to progress more or less from easier to harder words. But that’s somewhat subjective, and in any case I have them all in front of me, which makes it hard to judge,” said Hill.

For Hill, this minor difficulty is overshadowed by the encouraging atmosphere of the bee and his favorite part, recognizing all the finalists before the final round begins.

This year’s spelling bee contained several unexpected events including one round when several people in a quick succession were eliminated and a long standing two-person showdown between Leuchtenberger and Luca.

At the conclusion of the competition, Leuchtenberger was crowned the winner and even she was surprised by the outcome.

“I was kind of shocked and a little baffled because I really went into it not taking it that seriously and then it just kind of happened and I was like wow,” said Leuchtenberger.

Luca ended the long two-person showdown with Leuchtenberger when she misspelled the word troglodyte, a mistake she says is attributed to her over-confidence.

“I misspelled my word not because I didn’t know how to spell it but because I rushed and I said, it frustrates me so much, I said g-y-t-e instead of d-y-t-e and I didn’t hear it and I said the word afterwards and once you say the word afterwards you’re done you can’t change it so if I had paused and thought through what I had said I would have probably caught the mistake, but I just didn’t,” said Luca.

The only regret Luca had about the spelling bee was this mistake, and therefore, she wished she had remained cautious and been more aware of what she had said.

For underclassmen who want to perform well in future spelling bees, Leuchtenberger stresses that these students maintain the light-hearted spirit of the bee.

“Well if you want to perform well in them then… it’s really not an important life skill it’s just kind of fun, just don’t take yourself too seriously,” said Leuchtenberger.

In addition, Luca highlights the importance of reading as it remains a great strategy to improve one’s vocabulary and allows students to visualize words.

“Reading helps a lot because a lot of these words I see and I don’t know how to say some of them… but I can spell them because I see them. I think the more you read the better you get with vocab,” said Luca.

Ultimately, Luca and Leuchtenberger both express that the real life applications of spelling are limited, and thus students participating in this competition should be easygoing and carefree about the outcome.

Agreeing with both students, Hill hopes to continue the tradition of the spelling bee as less of a competition and more as a way to celebrate spelling at South.

“The spelling bee is one of those competitions where everyone really is there to have fun, and the audience always seems to enjoy cheering for their friends. So we can have a friendly contest without some of the baggage that naturally accumulates in a competitive environment like this one,” said Hill.