TRAVERSE CITY — Eighth-grader Jessie Williams has watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee every year for as long as she can remember.
“Those kids, they’re just geniuses,” Williams said of the contestants. “Some of them, it’s like they live and breathe the study words.”
She won’t be able to watch the bee on television this year. She’ll have an up-close view from her seat on the stage.
Williams, who attends Pathfinder School in Leelanau County, has always had a knack for spelling. She could spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the first grade, and she grew into an avid reader and writer.
“I love to write and I love to spell,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of the time I get the words I write correct, so I thought why not put that into competing?”
Williams won the Pathfinder School spelling bee when she was in fifth grade. She won her school’s bee again in seventh grade and went on to finish second place that year in the Leelanau County bee.
This year she won her school and county bees before snagging a first place finish in Sunday’s Grand Traverse Regional Spelling Bee after correctly spelling the word “bellicose.” She earned a medal, a dictionary and a trip to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.
Sunday’s competition was stacked with the best 30 spellers of the region. The State Theatre was silent save for the pronouncer and the spellers. The only other sound was the ring of a bell signaling a word was misspelled, and with that another chair would be left vacant on the stage.
The bee ran for 24 rounds, and the top three contestants — Williams, Anna Zahner and Ladida Cuellar — went back and forth for at least 10 rounds before only Williams and Zahner were left.