TRAVERSE CITY — Charlie Donahue didn’t waste any time after he took fourth place in last year’s Grand Traverse Regional Spelling Bee.
The day after the competition, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School eighth-grader buried his head in language books with the strategy “study, study, study.” He pored over how words are formed, and integrated them into his vocabulary.
Hours of preparation paid off. Charlie outlasted 28 other spellers Sunday in this year’s regional spelling bee at the State Theatre, an event sponsored by the Record-Eagle. He’ll head to Washington, D.C. to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
”I wanted to win this year,” he said.
Charlie and second-place winner Julia Pickard, a Kingsley Middle School eighth-grader, confidently breezed through more than 35 words before Charlie claimed the victory with “minaret.” They concluded the face-off with a friendly high-five.
Julia clutched a bouquet of flowers after the competition and released a sigh of relief. She’d appeared calm on the stage, spelling words while occasionally bobbing a knee, but inside she was a nervous wreck.
”I can breathe now,” she said. “It was really scary ... I couldn’t even look at the crowd.”
Lydia Christian, a student at Cherryland Middle School, took third-place and left in the 15th round.
Thomas and Valerie Myers offered their daughter, Natalie Myers, thumbs up and nods from the audience as she correctly spelled words such as “impetuous”,”lokshen” and “lederhosen.”
It was Natalie’s first time at the regional bee. The Suttons Bay Middle School eighth-grader has always been studious, her parents said. Meticulously reviewing the provided word lists brought her to fourth-place.
”She’s the type of reader, if she doesn’t know a word, she’ll go look it up,” Valerie Myers said.
Parents looked on with tension as the pool of spellers dwindled. Charlie broke the silence in the eighth round as he requested a tissue to blow his nose before spelling “chagrin,” prompting laughter from the audience. He joked afterward that he wanted to be remembered as more than the kid who blew his nose during the competition.
Greg Donahue expected his son to make it into the top five. Charlie faced tough competitors, but after a year of studying, Donahue said he deserved it.
”This was all Charlie from beginning to end,” Donahue said.