Berkeley's top speller has been preparing since second grade

Rachael Crowley won the Berkeley County School District Spelling Bee with “prosaic.” The Westview Middle seventh-grader out-spelled 35 other middle school students in the competition Thursday at the Berkeley High School auditorium.

Winning a spelling bee doesn't come easy, says seventh-grader Rachael Crowley, who became the Berkeley County School District's top speller tonight.

"I've been working on this since second grade," Crowley said.

The Westview Middle School student defeated 35 other sixth- through eighth-graders in the district spelling bee at Berkeley High School. All of the students in the district spelling bee had won spelling competitions at their respective schools.

Rachael, 12, won by correctly spelling the word "prosaic."

She's glad it was a word of Latin derivation. She's good with those, as well Greek and French-based words. The Spanish and Italian derivations sometimes give her a hard time, Rachael said.

Her father, Timothy Crowley, said he spent a lot of time practicing spelling words with his daughter. And her teachers worked with her a lot too. But he also pushed her to spend time studying on her own.

"She gets straight As," Timothy Crowley said. "She's the best daughter you could ever ask for."

And Westview Middle Principal Jerome Davis also was thrilled with Rachael's win. The district's top speller had been a Westview Middle student in years past, he said. But that wasn't the case last year. "We got our title back," he said.

The competition was tough and stressful for Rachael and all of the other spellers. They each nervously approached the microphone, hoping they would get a familiar word.

The early words were pretty easy to spell.

"Salami"

"Biopsy"

"Crochet"

Some students held their breath as they slowly and carefully spelled the word. Then they

exhaled loudly when they learned they had spelled it correctly. Others raised their eyes to the ceiling while spelling, as though the correct answers were written up there.

Laura Garner, the district's English Language Arts coordinator, said that stress is the reason only sixth- through eighth-graders participated at the district level this year. Fifth-graders used to be included in the event, she said. "But our elementary principals thought it was too much stress for them to be so public."

And the words got tougher.

"Sukiyaki"

"Alliteration"

"Sayonara"

Despite the stress, the top tier of spellers was feeling pretty good at the event's conclusion. Mei Haven Xu, who came in second, said she felt amazing. Mei Haven, a seventh-grader at College Park Middle School, said, "I didn't do all that studying for nothing."

The top 12 spellers from Berkeley County will go on to the regional bee, SpellBound! 2011, which will be held at 7 p.m. March 14 in the Lightsey Chapel at Charleston Southern University. The regional winner will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.