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Speller set for national stage

May 27, 2019

Grant Flora’s competitive career as a middle school student is coming to a literal standstill.

Flora, 14, has been running track this spring for West Noble Middle School. His times in the 800 and 1,600 meters and on the 4x800 relay team have been among the fastest in school history, according to www.athletic.net.

But this week, Flora will join 564 other youths who will compete by moving little more than their mouths and fingers. He will represent northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio at the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee in suburban Washington.

Contestants ages 7 to 15 will test their skills in oral and written spelling at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Flora will be speller No. 215 at the bee, which begins Monday with a preliminary written exam and will run through Thursday with the final round of oral spelling. Spellers will be eliminated if they misspell during oral rounds that begin Tuesday or fail to make the cutoff for cumulative preliminary scores that will advance no more than 50 students to the last two rounds. 

“Basically I’m just going to do my best and I’m going to see how far I can get. That’s kind of the mindset I had for the regional bee,” Flora said in a telephone interview from his Ligonier home.

Flora won the 65th annual Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee presented by STAR Financial Bank in March by correctly spelling “cuisinier,” a French word for a cook or chef.

His mother, Jennifer Flora, said she was more nervous during the regional bee than at any of the track and cross country meets and basketball games that Grant and his older brother, Issac, 17, have participated in.

The bee “lasts so long,” she said. “Man, I had a headache for two hours after the regional spelling bee because it was so intense. I was really amazed by those kids, all of them.”

Grant’s father, Michael Flora, who coaches the middle school track and cross country teams, said the regional bee “definitely was one of the most competitive events we’ve been to, which was unexpected and great. To have the opportunity to go to Washington to the Scripps Bee is just kind of an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Grant said he has watched parts of previous national bees on TV and saw the spelling bee film “Akeelah and the Bee.” He said he gets “a little bit nervous” spelling on a stage in front of an audience, “but normally it’s not too bad.”

His parents, each of whom teaches fourth grade for West Noble School Corp., call Grant a natural speller.

“I’ve read a good amount of books, so I think that has helped me to gain a decent vocabulary,” Grant said. “When I study, I can normally get things down pretty fast.”

Jennifer said that Grant, who will be a ninth grader at West Noble High School in the 2019-20 school year, is “a self-driven student. He’s pretty competitive, so that drives him to do well in school.”

The champion of this week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee will receive more than 25,000 and $2,000 in cash.

Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, won the 2018 bee by correctly spelling “koinonia,” which Scripps said means intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.

Three contestants from Indiana have won the bee. The most recent was the then 13-year-old Sameer Mishra of West Lafayette, who correctly spelled “guerdon” to place first in 2008. 

Sixteen students from Indiana are in this year’s bee. Contestants are from all 50 U.S. states, several U.S. territories, the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea. Two spellers are competing in their fifth national bee, and 162 were at the 2018 bee.

ESPN will broadcast the Thursday night finals involving about a dozen spellers, ESPN2 will broadcast earlier competition Thursday, ESPN3 will show onstage spelling Tuesday and Wednesday, and the ESPN app will provide coverage.

All four of the Floras are in Washington for the bee. They said they hope to have time to visit the White House, the Capitol Building, the International Spy Museum, the National Zoo, the Holocaust Museum, the Newseum and various monuments.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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