Clovis girl spells way to D.C. bee

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

“The word you’ll be spelling is a proper noun,” the bee master tells you.

“Land of origin?” you, the contestant, ask.

Bee on TV
Watch the bee live on ESPN:Preliminaries: Wednesday, 6 to 9:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. MDT.Semifinals: Thursday, from noon to 3 p.m. MDT.Finals: Thursday, from 6 to 8 p.m. MDT.

“Clovis, New Mexico, by way of London, by way of Nigeria.”


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“Definition, please?”

“Ten-year-old spelling bee state winner and practice maven who’ll represent New Mexico in the national spelling bee this week.”

You take a deep breath and give it a shot: “A-R-I-E-L-K-O-K-O-R-I-C-H-A.”

That’s correct. And you advance to the next round.

As does the girl behind the definition.

Ariel Kokoricha, a Clovis Christian School fifth-grader, who on May 18 beat 39 other spellers to win a four-hour competition at Sandia Prep, flew with her family to Washington, D.C., on Saturday to represent the state in the Scripps National Spelling Bee that starts Wednesday and ends Thursday.

“I was glad,” said Ariel of the win, “because I actually never thought about going there, and all of the sudden I get to go there!”

The oldest of three girls, inspired by the movie “Akeela and the Bee” and her love of books, she has been doing a lot lately to earn her definition. To get ready to compete against 280 other kids, she uses a Merriam Webster app on her iPad, an audio pronunciation guide, an online study tool provided by Scripps, and a spreadsheet she created.


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For the first time this year, participants have to know not only the spelling but the definition of the word. Ariel has been practicing for between two and four hours daily to be ready for the event, to be held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. “The longest I studied is five hours,” she reported during a telephone interview last week.

It’s not such a big departure from another passion. “I’ve already loved reading, and that made spelling a whole lot easier,” she said, “because they have a lot of words in books.”

She began spelling competitions when she was 8 and has already competed in 10. During the Curry County knuckle-biter of a bee in March 2012, she was asked to spell the word “phylum,” and, seeking clarity, she asked for the language of origin — Greek — which helped her spell the word correctly.

During competitions, to keep from getting nervous, she says, “I just ask for God to help me.”

Sometimes studying is a family affair, with Ariel quizzing her father, Tobore, 42, a physician with roots in Nigeria who was born in London and came to the U.S. 11 years ago to do his medical internship.

She has also drilled her sisters, Annabella, 6, and Ailsa, 8, so convincingly that Annabella put on a pretend spelling bee, playing the role of spell-master, judge and speller, all captured on videotape by Mom.

Sometimes Ariel quizzes her mother, Oyin, 34, also English-Nigerian, who now manages her husband’s internal medicine practice. And sometimes Oyin isn’t familiar with the words.

“I have to pretend to be busy, because I don’t know how to spell them or they are too complex, and I just go, ‘Ohh …’ ”


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