Soyeon Park won the 2017 Mississippi state spelling bee in Jackson. This year the eighth grader from Armstrong Middle School in Starkville will attend the Mississippi Spelling Bee Tuesday. If she wins she will go to the national competition for the third time, in Maryland in May. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Mississippi Education Association
Heritage eighth grader Sid Stegall looks at a list of Scripps spelling bee words with his parents Rebecca and Sidney Stegall at their home in Columbus Saturday. Sid won the county-wide spelling bee for third through eighth graders in January, which earned him a trip to Jackson for the 2019 Mississippi Spelling Bee on Tuesday. If Stegall wins, he will go to the national bee in Maryland later this year.
Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
March 18, 2019 10:37:40 AM
Soyeon Park has won the state spelling bee every year she's attended.
This year, now that she's an eighth grader, is her last year to try.
Park, a student at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, has emerged as Oktibbeha County's winner in a spelling competition for third through eighth graders in February, meaning she'll be representing the county at the Mississippi Spelling Bee in Jackson Tuesday. The last two times she competed at the state level -- in 2016 and 2017 -- she won first place and earned a trip to the Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
"It was exciting," she said about going to D.C. "You got to meet a lot of people and you got to look at national monuments and stuff, so it was fun."
Park has lived in Starkville for four or five years, she said, moving from Canada. While she's competed in the spelling bee every year for the last four years -- 2018 was the only year she did not make it out of the local competition -- it's not her favorite subject. That would be art. She's also involved this year in the Science Olympiad and National History Day.
She's been to enough spelling bees by now that she's got tricks she uses to study. If she keeps missing the same word, she enters it into the website Quizlet. By feeding her the definition and offering tips, the website will help her spell the word over and over again until she gets the hang of it.
Even so, Park said, it sometimes helps to guess, which is what she did with her first "win word" during a bee when she was in fifth grade.
"I just had to guess on it based on the alternate pronunciation because I wasn't 100 percent sure on it," she said.
Even so she said she doesn't have any favorite words -- or least favorite words she finds frustrating to spell. She simply likes reading.
Parks said she's both nervous and excited for Tuesday's state competition, but added it won't be too upsetting if she doesn't win.
"I'm definitely nervous, but if I don't make it, I've already gone (to the national competition) twice, so I don't think it'll be as much of a big deal," she said.
If Park wins, she will go on to the National Spelling Bee in Maryland in May.
Whatever the outcome, her family and school district are proud of her, Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District officials said.
"We're extremely proud of her accomplishments, and Armstrong Middle School as well as our entire district are cheering for her tomorrow," Armstrong Middle School Principal Julie Kennedy said.
Heritage Academy eighth grader Sid Stegall will be the first to admit spelling isn't his go-to subject in school.
He's more of a math, and sometimes history, person. Nonetheless, he's excited to head to Jackson Tuesday for his first time ever in the spelling bee.
In January, Stegall emerged as the top speller in Lowndes County. He said he doesn't remember which word helped him win, but he knows he got "confetti."
"I was surprised," he said. "I will admit Chloe (Barr, Stegall's fellow eighth grader who won the county bee in 2018) got a little unlucky. I had no idea how to spell the word she got out on."
Stegall moved from Texas to Columbus about five years ago and began attending Heritage in the fourth grade. That was the year he placed ninth in the county spelling bee. Still, he didn't expect to place first his last year to be eligible for the bee.
Since he did win, he's been studying the official list of more than 1,000 words released by Scripps, any of which could be in the state spelling bee.
"I have struggled a little with German and a few Italian words," he said. "And the Arabic words."
He's particularly been focusing on the "tips and tricks" to help figure out how to spell words derived from different languages.
"Their tricks are very helpful for some of the Arabic words," he said.
Stegall has gotten help from his parents, Sidney and Rebecca Stegall, as well.
"We talked a lot about sounds that words make," Rebecca said. "I try to help him. I'm a Spanish teacher. ... It broke it down (by) words that are Spanish in origin, Italian, German, Latin.
"He knows the sounds that letters make," she added. "...(For example) when he gets a Spanish word, the vowel sounds are simple. Italian is similar to Spanish. So I tried to help him where I could on that. These are the sounds I know a little bit about. I think that helped him some."
After joking that his favorite words were the "English words," Sid agreed his real favorites were probably words that derived from Latin, which he's been studying for about a year.
But Sid feels where he really shines is math and cross country. In fact, he has a math competition in Scooba on Friday, he said, and his father added he's involved in several athletic programs.
"He's a really good runner," Sidney said.
"He's just really smart," said Rebecca. "He's a smart kid and a good student. You just never know what he's going to come up with. He has a good memory."
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