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SIBLINGS WILL ‘BEE’ TOGETHER
BY EDIE GROSS
It’s been more than 40 years since Prudence Risley Hopkins competed in a spelling bee, and nine since she last saw all her siblings in one place.
The Spotsylvania woman will do both this weekend, having convinced her two older sisters and older brother to join her in Cheyenne, Wyo., for the AARP National Spelling Bee.
“We’re at a point where we should have no more weddings or funerals for a while, but we like getting together,” said Hopkins, 57. “We were like, ‘We haven’t gotten together in a while. What are we going to do?’”
Hopkins, a chaplain at Mary Washington Hospital, said she was scrolling through the AARP’s website when she spotted some information about the bee and pitched it to her siblings as a reunion idea.
The last time all four were together was in 2003 for the funeral of their father, an English teacher and spelling authority. He taught his children to spell words rhythmically, syllable by syllable, said Hopkins.
“I remember being 6 years old and dad taught me to spell chrysanthemum: C-H-R-Y. S-A-N. T-H-E. M-U-M,” she said. “He’d say if you break it down according to syllables, it’s not so hard to spell because you only have to spell one syllable at a time.”
Using the technique, she and her siblings were often the spelling champs in their classrooms. But Hopkins said she doesn’t think any of them has competed since junior high.
Still, thanks to their parents—mom was an elementary school teacher—all four children are logophiles.
“They raised us to love words,” said Hopkins.
She’ll be joined at the Saturday bee by Joan Risley of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Roger Risley of Port Townsend, Wash.; and Christine Wagner of Sacramento, Calif.
A distant cousin, Michael Petrina Jr., is also competing. Petrina, of Arlington, Va., actually beat Joan Risley in a New York spelling bee in 1958, when the two were about 12 or 13, so Hopkins said her sister is looking forward to the rematch.
It could be a tough one. Petrina won the AARP National Spelling Bee in 2009, and he’s one of three champions returning to the event this year, said Joanne Bowlby Mai, the spokeswoman for AARP Wyoming.
The bee started in 1996, and no one has ever won it twice, Mai said. By Thursday, 51 spellers from 24 states had registered for the event, but the bee usually garners a few last-minute entries, she said.
Competitors, who must be 50 or older, take a 100-word written spelling test on Saturday morning. The top 15 advance to the live round, which viewers can watch at 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time at aarp.org/spellingbee.
Each speller is allowed two misses before they’re out, and the winner gets $1,000.
Hopkins said her brother has actually studied the bee’s word list, so he may have a shot at the top prize. Then again, if the bee includes a lot of medical terminology, that’s her speciality.
Regardless of who wins, the siblings intend to enjoy themselves, Hopkins said.
“It’s all in fun,” she said.
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428