The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Jessica Ditton wins spelling bee
BY CATHY JETT
THE FREE LANCE–STAR
After 24 grueling rounds, only two out of 22 contestants remained in The Free Lance–Star Regional Spelling Bee on Saturday.
One was last year’s champion, Drew Marino, an eighth-grader at Warrenton Middle School. His challenger was Jessica Ditton, a sixth-grade home-schooler from Stafford County whose twin sister also competed.
Drew and Jessica stood side by side on the stage in the James Monroe High School auditorium as they battled it out for eight more rounds. Drew aced such words as “baleen,” “academese” and “rapscallion” before stumbling on “styptic.”
Jessica, nervously twisting strands of her long brown hair tighter and tighter, went on to spell “brilliantine” correctly. Then, as her parents, twin Laurelle, younger brother Deuce and her stuffed elephant Ellie watched expectantly, she successfully spelled the word “dowager” in round 33 to win the championship.
Her lucky blue dress and silver heels, the ones she’d worn to win the Spotsylvania Regional Christian Home Schoolers bee, had proved lucky indeed in the 2½-hour competition.
“I was really nervous for her,” said Laurelle, who attends Lighthouse Academy of Fredericksburg, a private school. She added that she doubted she would have been able to spell “liquesce” as easily as her twin did to advance to round 25.
At the end of the bee, The Free Lance–Star Publisher Nicholas Cadwallender invited Jessica’s parents, Karen and David Ditton, onto the stage, and they held hands as he presented their daughter with an oversized check for $1,000, a Webster’s Third International Dictionary, a one-year membership to Britannica Online premium donated by Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award.
The award is a 2013 U.S. Mint proof set that Jay Sugarman, the chairman and CEO of iStar Financial and longtime bee supporter, donated in honor of his father.
Jessica, who spent the last two nights before the bee with a dictionary under her pillow, will also get an all-expenses-paid week at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor where she’ll represent the region in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 26–June 1.
A total of 10,285 area students from 16 public, private and parochial schools and home-school associations took part in bees leading up to Saturday’s regional event.
The Dittons planned to celebrate Jessica’s win with dinner at The Melting Pot, and Jessica said she is going to use some of her winnings to buy Saige Copeland, the newest American Girl doll.
As family and friends gathered to congratulate Jessica, her mother was already asking the bee’s pronouncer, Paul D. Fallon, associate professor of linguistics at the University of Mary Washington, if he could recommend a mentor to work with her daughter before the national bee.
He advised her to have Jessica study the vocabulary words for the SAT and the online tips from previous bees, and then gave her his business card.
“I’ve taken her as far as I can,” Karen Ditton said. “I need a mentor for her like Akeelah had in [the movie] ‘Akeelah and the Bee.’”
Cathy Jett: 540/735-1975