Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 25, 2013

Grand Traverse student heads to national spelling bee

BY ANGIE JACKSON ajackson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Eighth-grader Charlie Donahue remembers his first spelling bee, way back in third grade. He was over-confident then, and a “very easy” word bounced him from the competition.

”I really didn’t like spelling bees after that, but my mom convinced me to try again,” Charlie said.

The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School student has good reason to be confident now. A year of burying his head in language books earned Charlie a spot in next week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Charlie, of Traverse City, beat 28 other spellers at the Grand Traverse Regional Spelling Bee in March for the slot in the national bee, where he’ll go up against 280 students from eight countries.

Competition begins May 29.

Charlie, 14, added an hour or two of studying Greek and Latin word roots to his nightly homework routine. That’s after track practice and between playing the saxophone and practicing for choir class. When he tires, he imagines himself on stage.

”I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, so I keep pushing through,” said Charlie, who hopes to be an author and programmer one day.

He and his father, Gregory Donahue, leave tomorrow for Washington, D.C. His mother and six younger siblings will cheer for him when the competition airs lives on ESPN. Charlie aims to make it to the semi-finals.

Charlie’s academic drive influences his younger siblings to view studying in a positive light and not as a chore, his father said.

”They kind of hold him in high regard and put him on a pedestal and look at him as the gold standard of schoolwork. The kids don’t view studying or reading as a bad thing,” Donahue said.

Charlie’s spelling success is all his doing, Donahue said. In preparing for next week’s competition, the teen logged 2,000 words into a phone application that speaks a word and prompts him to spell it. He also focused on a list of difficult words. “Oenophile” is among them.

”Sometimes in my head a word just pops up and I think how do I spell that? What’s the definition of that?” Charlie said.

New words sometimes slip into conversations with peers, who have rallied behind him. His school sold pins saying, “Can you spell C-H-A-R-L-I-E?”

”Everyone is so proud of him,” said St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Principal Lori Phillips. “He definitely has the respect of all of his peers. He’s always been a hard worker and he’s extremely intelligent.”

Charlie will have to study for final exams when he returns. Then he looks forward to catching up on sleep and enjoying “not having to do anything.”

”I’ll have so much free time I won’t know what to do with it,” he said.