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Montross 6th-grader is queen of the Bee

It was a small moment, but spoke volumes about the skills of the students squaring off in the ninth annual Regional Spelling Bee Saturday at James Monroe High School.

In the 28th round of competitive spelling—after 50 minutes of participants nailing words like bandersnatch, sitzmark, pochismo, langlauf, nachtmusik and tokamak—sixth-grader Brianna Bartley of Montross was the last one standing.

If she could spell just one more word correctly, she’d be the day’s champ in the bee sponsored by The Free Lance–Star, the winner who’d represent the region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in May.

When she got the championship word and spelled it out—i-n-s-o-l-u-b-l-e—it wasn’t a bee official or judge who first acknowledged that Bartley had nailed it. It was sixth-grade rival Kyra Holland of Fauquier County.

Holland went toe to toe with the Montross Middle School student until the 27th round and would have still been in the running had Bartley faltered.

The second Bartley uttered the “e” in insoluble, Holland knew her competitor had spelled the word correctly and wasted no time offering her “Congratulations!” through her microphone.

Moments later, Bartley was accepting a huge dictionary and a $1,000 check from Free Lance–Star publisher Nicholas J. Cadwallender for an error-free spin through words that would make many an English teacher blanche.

So how was the Westmoreland County schools’ representative going to celebrate?

“We’re going roller skating tonight!” she exclaimed, joined by several friends after the ceremony.

The calm and collected Bartley, the daughter of Rebecca Mitchell and Kevin Bartley, quickly gave credit to her mother for the way she’s marched from spelling bees in her class, school and school system to yesterday’s regional event.

“My mother’s a really good speller and has helped me get ready all the way along,” said the glowing winner, noting that her mother was always ready to call her long lists of spelling words.

Her mother paid her daughter similar compliments.

“Brianna has worked really, really hard to get ready,” she said, noting that there were days when her daughter spent every spare minute pouring over lists of words that would be in the bee.

For the early rounds of yesterday’s bee, pronouncer Paul D. Fallon, a linguistics professor at the University of Mary Washington, stuck to words in the lists the participants in grades 3–8 had been given to study.

But when the field of 18 students representing school systems throughout the region was whittled down to eight in the 11th round of the bee, it took 14 more rounds to whittle the number of spellers standing to below seven.

Eventually, mistress of ceremonies Florence C. Barnick, associate publisher of The Free Lance–Star, consulted with Fallon and other judges and moved to more difficult words, ones not included in bee study lists.

In the 26th round, Ethan Ruggeri of Locust Grove Middle School in Orange County misspelled the word sebreption and Leilani Reich of Moncure Elementary in Stafford County was eliminated with the word procurator.

Both received applause for perfect rounds until then.

As did Bartley for her win and her style of spelling words fairly quickly after they were pronounced.

“I’ll be working hard to get ready for the national bee,” said Bartley, obviously inspired by the throng of well-wishers congratulating her on the win.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415