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Laulii Elementary student takes 1st place in historic win at Territorial Spelling Bee

It was an appropriate word —”liberation” — that brought an end to the historic final round of the Territorial Spelling Bee yesterday at the KVZK studios in Utulei.

Forty two rounds after they began, with nearly twenty of those rounds “toe to toe” between the final pair — parents, teachers, coaches, family members and friends waited anxiously along the sidelines until seventh grader Rita Jennings of Lauli’i Elementary ended the longest Bee in the 18-year history of the local contest.

Speaking to Samoa News at the end of her long stint under the hot lights of the TV studio, she said shyly, “In a word, I feel great... and a little surprised.” She admitted that her favorite subject really is math, but she wanted to enter this contest to see if she could go all the way. And go all the way she did.

In what turned out to be a marathon contest, her nearest competitor, Vea Ebony Seumanutafa of Matatula Elementary took second place, while Tulili Howard of Manumalo Baptist Elementary placed third.

 Jennings immediately attributed her success to her coach, who does indeed have a winning record.

It is the third consecutive year, and the fourth year overall, that Lauli’i Elementary’s eighth grade teacher Gingerlei Maga-Uili has coached a territorial winner, and Gingerlei will accompany her protege, Rita (the youngest daughter of Philo and Epi Jennings) to the Scripps National Spelling Bee scheduled to be held at the end of May this year in Washington DC.

Each of the twenty seven contestants, representing as many schools, began in earnest after introducing themselves around 9 a.m. and as Samoa News General Manager Robin Annesley Dalton noted when it was over — every participant was a champion from their school... literally.

The Territorial Bee is the final contest among the finalists from every eligible school, and only students from third to eighth grade are allowed to participate, according to National Bee rules. This year’s local Bee had students from 4th to 8th grade in the mix, and most were novice contestants, with just six returning spellers from last year.

As each of the spellers approached the microphone — they came in sneakers, flip-flops and even barefooted — they displayed the full gamut of emotion, from jittery nervousness to confident bravado. They sailed their way through words like “cryptic” “maestro” and “pneumatic” — stopping to ask for word origin, definition and alternate pronunciation as they were taught to do.

By Round Five, it was evident that they had studied hard, and memorized well, as the bell rang often (the bell is a good thing, it means they got it right) and so it was decided by the judges and Bee Coordinator Evelyn Lili’o Satele to step up the heat and jump to a harder set of words

No one lost their word in Round Six (even after “staccato” “precocious” and “camouflage”) but in Round Seven, “frontispiece” and “protocol” sent two more to the sidelines. (Later, “frontispiece ” was challenged as being outside the “Spell it” study guide word list (a fluke from the National level) and the contestant returned, hanging in there for most of the contest, but eventually losing in a late round.)

Words for every authorized Bee, both local and national, are taken from Mirriam-Webster’s International Dictionary, and hearing the tremendous word choices, it was evident the children were grappling with a language full of words that have been adopted, adapted, borrowed and perhaps even stolen from nearly every country on earth. As they spelled words from Italian, Greek, Russian, Danish, French, Spanish, even Malay origins, one realizes how daunting this task is for the student of English, even more so if English is a second language.

After Round 19, the contest became even more difficult, as words not found in the official Study Guide (the Padeia) are chosen. After going “out there” or “off the reservation” as one official put it, the children grappled with words of every level. Words such as “rivet” “hubbub” and “ivied” disqualified them, and by Round 23 it was down to the final two.

The back and forth went on until Jennings spelled her winning word in her round, and with it, was a Territorial Bee Champion for the history books.

For the wordsmith, the bibliophile, the aficionado, a spelling bee is heady fun, for the spelling-challenged, it may be something closer to torture — but for the students involved in the Territorial Bee, it proved to be a monumental effort, a challenge which they rose to, worked hard for, and as the winner said, “even dreamed about”.

Samoa News congratulates every contestant, their coaches, teachers and parents for being there, all the way to “liberation”.



Samoa News, as the host and sponsor of the Territorial Bee would like to acknowledge the following generous community donors who have helped make this Bee the tremendous success that it is:

 The Major Sponsor, Hawaiian Airlines, in their fifth year as such; Ace American Industries (gift bag of school supplies); Alanoa Petals (floral arrangements); (gift certificates); ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank (wide assortment of promo items, including umbrellas, planners, hats, mugs and more); Bank of Hawaii (monetary donation); Bluesky Communications (phone packages); Encyclopedia Britannica (online); Carl’s Jr. (gift certificates); GHC Reid (gift certificates); Haleck Enterprises (monetary donation); KVZK TV; McDonalds (gift certificates); Pizza Hut (gift certificates); Samuel Lewis Sugarman (savings bond); Vai’s Flowers (leis) and Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

Of course, the Bee wouldn’t be the success it is each year, without the participation of elementary students, teachers-coaches of the ASDOE public schools as well as the private schools of the territory.

Of note, Samoa News has always made sure that Manu’a elementary school participants and their chaperones are able to make it to Tutuila for the Territorial Bee each year, by paying for transportation.

Samoa News is also grateful to Bee pronouncers, Dr. Kathleen Kolhoff-Belle and Lewis Wolman for their contributions, as well as judges Howard Helg, and Tusi Suiaunoa,who listened attentively with Annesley Dalton through the long morning and into the afternoon.