East Setauket middle schooler wins LI spelling bee at Hofstra
Isabelle Scott stood at the microphone on stage with her eyes closed. Her right hand was drawn inward, flattened, with the palm up. Her left hand held an imaginary writing tool that she used to "scribble" the word onto her right palm.
Then, she spelled "abatement" -- the word that clinched the victory for the 13-year-old Sunday at the second Hofstra Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee. Scott will represent Long Island at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.
"It's advice from my dad," she said later of her technique. "He says that you can spell any word as long as you can visualize it."
In a "spell down" that lasted nearly two hours, Scott, of East Setauket -- an eighth-grade student at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School -- defeated runner-up Naman Shakrani and 97 others among the best fourth- to eighth-grade spellers on Long Island.
As the match went on, the words fluctuated from Latin to French to Spanish origins.
"They're randomly inserted. They do get much more difficult toward the very end, as the rounds progress," said head judge Carole Clark Papper, director of Hofstra University's writing center. The event is important for students, she said, "because of the confidence it gives them in their own ability to compete intellectually."
For Allison McLarty, Isabelle's mother, whom she immediately hugged after winning, the bee was a moment of pride.
"I am so proud. She worked very hard," said McLarty, 50, of East Setauket, adding that she had helped prep her daughter. "We recognized a lot of the words today."
Scott won a dictionary, $100 savings bond, subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica and an all-expense-paid trip to the national bee with an adult.
"I'm very excited, but I'm also very nervous," she said of her upcoming journey to Washington. "The national spelling bee is going to be so intense. There will be so many other people there. It will be kind of intimidating, but it should also be fun."
Scott said she prepared by studying a word list often, for three to four hours every day.
"We would mark the words that she got wrong and she would do it again, and again, and again," McLarty said.
"I think that she should get the trophy," Scott said of her mother. "We worked so late into the night."
Runner-up Naman Shakrani, 12, of East Meadow, said he competed in regional spelling bees for the past three years -- winning the 2011 bee held at Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School and going on to Washington.
"I wanted to try to win again to go to Washington," said Naman, an eighth-grader at W.T. Clarke Middle School. "This time . . . [the words] were a little tougher."
He practiced daily by reading parts of the dictionary and a word list with his father, Kamlesh Shakrani, 46, who said he was proud of his son.
Naman had two words of advice for future competitors: "Stay determined."