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Spelling bee loss is 'patible' with return of school program

Rhys Miller, 14, poses for a photo with Jacques Bailly, the head pronouncer of the Spelling Bee.
Courtesy Photo
Lauren Murphy
Rhys Miller, 14, poses for a photo with Jacques Bailly, the head pronouncer of the Spelling Bee.

It’s a shared victory as Rhys Miller, 14, advances through three preliminary rounds of the National Spelling Bee.

But that also means a shared loss when the word “patible” proves tricky in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

After winning at Traverse City West Middle School, Miller went on to Washington D.C. with 148 other students from all over the country.

Miller says he was just glad he got to D.C.

"My goal was really to just get here, so I'm happy with that," he said.

Being on stage and under pressure might seem intimidating, but Miller said it isn't to him.

"You could be looking at the audience with hundreds of eyes looking at you, or you can be in your own head," he said, adding that he would do it again in a heartbeat.

Miller's mother, Lauren Murphy, said it was a great learning opportunity, and more emotional than she anticipated.

"You really don't know what's going to happen," she said. "The first three rounds we were really tickled. I don't know how to describe the emotions I was feeling."

She said it was easy to feel emotional for the other students as they competed, and said she got choked up several times.

Kathryn Baumann is the 8th grade counselor who helped set up the district’s effort for what she said was the first time in at least 12 years.

“So, we watched yesterday in my office and then I shared the link with some of his teachers, and it was so fun yesterday because it kind of started to be a buzz around school,” she said.

Baumann said she hopes the popularity this year will bring in more students next time. This year’s group was twelve students, and several parents who came to help.

“The 6th and 7th graders hearing about it, maybe it will excite them to do it in years to come,” she said.

The school’s spelling bee program is not the only one having a comeback. Becca McCarter, a media coordinator for the bee said the operation is back on track after the pandemic.

“In 2020, the bee was actually cancelled, for the pandemic, which is only the second time in it’s almost-100-year history that has ever happened,” she said. “The only other time was for World War II.

“In 2021, the bee was able to bring the competition back in sort of a hybrid environment. Most of the segments were in a hybrid environment.”

She said 2022 and 2023 were a return to normal operations, but the number of participants was gradually increasing.

Mccarter said this year’s starting group of 245 was the largest group since 2019.

“It’s a lot of fun to see kids be able to see learning can be fun,” Baumann said. “I think different kids find different interests at school… but I think the spelling bee offers another area where kids can really grow.”

Four Michigan students started at the quarterfinals:

• Divya Choudhary, 10, grade 5

• Joshua Diocares, 14, grade 8

• Aryan Khedkas, 13, grade 8

• Rhys Miller, 14, grade 8

Khedkas, from Waterford, made it to the semifinals. The finals will be streamed from 8-10 p.m. Thursday at

Editor's note: The Traverse City Record-Eagle sponsored Rhys Miller and Lauren Murphy on their trip to compete in Washington D.C.

Lauren Rice is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
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