Spelling bee important

Academic competitions can sometimes get overlooked, especially during this time of year.

That’s because there’s an awful lot going on. For example, area boys and girls basketball teams are involved in their tournaments, state wrestling tournaments are being held and athletes are busy preparing for the spring sports seasons.

But there are still some pretty important academic events happening, and that list includes the Jefferson-Harrison County Regional Spelling Bee. It’s a tradition that the Herald-Star is proud to have sponsored since the first area bee was held in 1985.

Much has changed during the past 33 years. The bee has undergone several name changes, there have been a few format changes and its location has changed many times, but it remains one of the most important events on the area school calendar.

When the participants in this year’s bee take to the stage at 11 a.m. Saturday at Buckeye North Elementary School in Brilliant, it will represent the end of a process that started not too long after school resumed in August. Those participants will have survived classroom bees, building bees and district bees just to earn their spots in the regional event.

There will be a lot at stake Saturday. Bragging rights will go to the winner, as well as the satisfaction that comes with knowing that he or she is area’s top speller. But there’s more — Saturday’s winner will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to and represent our area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held as part of Bee Week at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Md. Bee Week, which runs May 27 through June 2, offers participants and their families the chance to meet other young people and their families from many parts of the world, and experience much of what the Washington, D.C., area has to offer.

Included is the actual bee competition, which is scheduled to be held May 29-31.

The list of winners of the regional bee begins with Jimmy Yoo of Steubenville City Schools in 1985 and runs through Grace McKeegan, a home-schooled pupil, who won last year’s regional bee.

McKeegan will be looking to defend her title Saturday and add her name to a list of multiple local winners. The most recent was Nathan Keenan of Toronto, who won the bee in 2013 and 2014. Amy Francy, who represented the Diocese of Steubenville, was the first to win the bee twice, finishing first in 1988 and 1990. Frank Zeroski of the Buckeye Local School District won in 1996 and 1997; Derek Gavorcik won in 2002 while representing West Elementary School and in 2004 while representing SouthWest Middle School; Meadow Jackson won in 2008 while representing All-Saints Elementary School and in 2009 while representing the Jefferson County Christian School; and Dharani Kotekal won in 2010 and 2012 while representing Indian Creek Junior High School.

There’s been one three-time winner — Erica Williamson, who won in 1991, 1992 and 1993 while representing the Edison Local School District.

It takes a lot of work to coordinate the bee, and that task falls to the staff at the Jefferson County Educational Service Center. Sponsors for the regional bee include S.T.A.R.T — Special Tactics and Rescue Training — and 360 Safe Solutions; Hess Corp.; the Franciscan University of Steubenville; Huntington Bank; Tri-State Financial Services, McBane Insurance and Financial Services and PNC Bank. The Ohio Lottery Commission again has paid the entry fees for every school in the state.

National sponsors, including Merriam-Webster Inc. and Encyclopaedia Britannica, also are providing prizes that will go to the top finishers Saturday.

We’ll publish a special section Friday that will include a picture and some interesting information about each of the pupils who will participate in Saturday’s bee.

And, we hope you’ll join us Saturday in Brilliant to watch them compete.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)