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Bee season’s in full swing

Now that the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are finally behind us, it’s time for activities around the region to resume.

Granted, things have not been easy during the past two years, as organizers and participants have worked hard to navigate through ever-changing restrictions and guidelines that have been put into place in an effort to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

We’re now able to safely gather for events, and one of those that parents and pupils in our area always has looked forward to is the Jefferson-Harrison County Regional Spelling Bee, which is presented by the Herald-Star.

The last two years have been tough on the local competition, which dates back to 1985. The 2020 bee had to be canceled, a victim of COVID-19. Organizers were able to successfully pull off the competition last year, though the regional bee, which sends its winner to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, was conducted in a virtual format.

Isabella Fletcher, a pupil at Harding Middle School, finished first in that bee and was one of 209 spellers to compete in the national bee, which was held in a virtual format until the finals.

She was one of the last 30 spellers left in the competition and just missed out on earning a trip to Orlando, Fla., for the finals, where Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, correctly spelled “murraya,” which means a “genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees having pinnate leaves and flowers with inbricated petals.” That made her the first Black American to win the bee.

This year’s regional bee is scheduled to return to an in-person event and be held at 11 a.m. March 12 at Buckeye North Elementary School in Brilliant. The process to select the participants in that event began shortly after pupils returned to school in August, with classroom and building bees. The top spellers from those competitions will compete in district bees beginning this week.

The top eight spellers in each district bee will advance to the regional bee, with the ninth- and 10th-place finishers from each district becoming alternates.

Those district bees begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when the Indian Creek district bee is held at Indian Creek Middle School and the Edison Local district bee is held at Edison High School.

Buckeye Local’s district bee is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Buckeye Local High School, and the Harrison Hills district bee is scheduled to be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Harrison Central High School.

Toronto City Schools will hold its bee at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 19 at Toronto Junior-Senior High School, while Steubenville City Schools will hold its district bee at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 at Harding Middle School.

There is a lot of planning that goes into pulling all of the parts of the bee program together, and that, once again, falls to a group of educators and volunteers from the Jefferson County Educational Service Center. Ron Sismondo, director of curriculum and professional development at the center, has returned, once again, as bee coordinator. Helping them ensure a successful program is a group of area businesses and organizations that serve as sponsors.

Whoever emerges as the winner of the regional bee will earn a spot in this year’s national bee, which officials at Scripps have said will return to the Washington, D.C., area, with the semifinals on June 1 and finals on June 2 scheduled to be broadcast over the Ion and Bounce television services. LaVar Burton, the actor, director, educator and lifelong children’s literacy advocate, will serve as host of the broadcasts.

According to Scripps, the Herald-Star is one of 175 newspapers, organizations, companies and organizations whose local programs help to make the bee program a success. It’s a legacy that started with our first winner, Jimmy Yoo in 1985, and has continued through Fletcher last year, and one we are proud to once again be a part of.

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

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