A marathon day of I’s before E’s at the seventh annual Telegram Spelling Bee saw 13-year old Maria Burton of MacDonald Drive junior high take the top prize.
The record-high field of 85 competitors took to the stage at Holy Heart Theatre in St. John’s Saturday, each with hopes of spelling their way to a $2,000 prize and a trip to Washington D.C. in May to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The day was not without its drama. Originally scheduled to end at 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the talented group of spellers from schools across the province just kept spelling the words correctly. Eventually, the judges ran out of words on the first list and began a second to accommodate the spellers.
Finally, it came down to three spellers. Jenna Hu, a 13-yer-old student from St. Paul’s Junior High; Jassem Almutawa, an 11-year old student of Lakecrest Independent; and Maria.
Initially, Jassem and Maria misspelled their words in the three-person final round, leaving Jenna one word away from the championship. But, her championship word came one letter short, bringing Jassem and Maria back into the bee.
In the end, Maria took the top prize — the second time the Burton family has claimed the crown at Telegram Spelling Bees.
“I feel amazing,” said Maria, on stage at Holy Heart minutes after taking the crown.
She says the moment between completing the spelling of the final word and the judge’s word that she got it right was an eternity.
“I’m just panicking. Just really nervous, going, ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to get this right? Am I going to get this wrong?’”
The judging panel, featuring Telegram Managing Editor Pam Frampton, Junior Achievement NL CEO Sandra Patterson, former teacher Sharon Reddy, and pronouncer Shannon Sullivan, finally gave Maria the thumbs up that she was the champion.
The 13-year-old victor says she didn’t plan to compete initially, but changed her mind.
“First of all, I decided that studying was going to be a bit of a hassle, so I wasn’t going to do the class bee. But, a few days before the bee, I was like, ‘I’m going to do it,’” she said.
“So I studied a lot in those few days. I passed the class, and then I passed the school, then I started studying for the regionals, and now I’m going to Washington.”
Maria says there’s one person in particular who inspired her to take part.
“I’d say my brother. At first I thought it was impossible to do, but then my brother did it, so I thought I could do it, too,” she said.
Vince Burton took home the 2017 Telegram Spelling Bee title and joined Burton on stage for congratulations after the day’s events.
Now, Maria has until May 27 to prepare and get ready to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in Washington.
“The whole experience itself is just really great! I love the idea of being up on a big stage and being on TV, you know?” she said.