Student wins second L.I. Regional Scripps Spelling Bee
Photo: Pictured (from left) are: Professor Yvonne Teems, Lisa Dresner, second runner-up Sara Ashraf, winner Ryan Himmelsbach, first runner-up Zekey Huang, Professor Jeff Morosoff and Ethna Lay. Photo Courtesy of Philip Hinds/ University Relations.
Eighth-grade Ryan Himmelsbach won his second Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee Sunday afternoon in Monroe Lecture Hall with the word “Teleost. T-E-L-E-O-S-T. Teleost,” which is a classification of fish. The 13-year-old from Setauket will now go on to represent Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School and the rest of Long Island at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.
But according to Himmelsbach, he didn’t know the final word; he hadn’t studied it.
“I study a bunch of lists of words, but also I pick up on a lot of patterns and roots that help spell the words which is why I got the winning word right.” Himmelsbach said. “I didn’t know it, but then there were some that I just knew right away. So I tend to study them either by origin or by categorizing them in things that are similar and that really helps a lot.”
The regional competition began last Sunday, Feb. 4, when 129 students from Nassau and Suffolk counties were given a written exam. Only 41 students out of the original 129 passed on to the next round, including Himmelsbach and his younger sister, Ava.
During the second round, a panel of judges gave students words to spell aloud on stage and contestants were eliminated when they misspelled a word.
The competition continued for 10 rounds and a little over two hours until just one speller remained.
Jeffrey Morosoff, professor of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations, read the words aloud and answered questions about their definitions and languages of origin.
He commended the contestants for their ability to deter the pressures of parents, peers and college professors all watching as they attempted to spell the words correctly.
“They’re all tremendous spellers, but it’s clear as you get into the seventh or eighth round who are the strongest and who usually don’t get things wrong,” Morosoff said. “By the time you get to those last rounds, it gets very competitive; you’re down to just a handful of students. And then, when it gets down to two, then tension really mounts and you feel it – you feel the tension. And the students – I feel tense for them.”
Indeed, Himmelsbach faced some well-prepared competition, including first runner-up Zekey Huang from Mount Sinai Middle School and second runner-up Sarah Ashraf from Hicksville Middle School. Huang and Ashraf both utilized “Spell It!,” the Scripps National Spelling Bee study website created in conjunction with Merriam-Webster, when preparing for the bee.
“I kept looking over the list, then I highlighted the words I got wrong, then I wrote all those words down, then I kept writing them down and then just reviewed the rules of each language,” Ashraf said.
“[The students are] quite impressive, it just knocks me out how bright they are and I hope they all come to Hofstra,” Morosoff said.
Himmelsbach will now go on to the 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will begin on Tuesday, May 29.