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Gazette-Mail Spelling Bee winner keeping busy ahead of competition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee winner Elizabeth Koh is having a busy couple of weeks.

Last week, she performed in dance and music recitals. On Friday, the 13-year-old graduated from eighth grade at St. Frances de Sales School in Beckley.

On Sunday, she's headed to the nation's capital to compete against 277 students from around the world in the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

This is Elizabeth's second trip to the national bee. She has competed in spelling bees since she was in fourth grade but won her first county bee championship in 2011. She went on to win her first Gazette-Mail Regional Bee championship last year and made a repeat performance in this year's competition.

Elizabeth received an all-expenses-paid trip to the national bee; a $2,500 SMART529 college savings plan through a program of the West Virginia Treasurer's office; the Samuel Louis Sugarman award (a $100 savings bond); a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online; and a Webster's Third New International Dictionary.

The March 17 regional bee was co-sponsored by the West Virginia Housing Development Fund and Lumos Networks and televised by WSAZ's sister station, MyZ TV.

"This is my last bee. I'm so glad I've made it this far," Elizabeth said. "Since I've been doing bees since fourth grade, this is really important to me."

Elizabeth didn't make it past the national bee's preliminary rounds last year -- only 41 of the 275 spellers moved on -- but she's determined to make a better showing this year.

"When I'm not doing what I have to do for school or my other extracurricular activities, I'm trying to study very hard for this bee," she said.

She has pored over lists and dictionaries online and is tackling languages of origin for many words.

"If I don't know the word, I'll be able to use the origins and the definition, information about the word, to help me correctly spell that word. I've been preparing that way, for words I don't know in the bee," she said.

Elizabeth hopes her previous experience at the national bee will help calm her nerves this time.

"I will have more time to focus on studying, now that everything isn't as new. But it will still be another new experience. It's different every time."

Elizabeth's mom, Rosemary; her brother, 2008 Gazette-Mail champ Matthew; and her sister, Sarah, will accompany her to Washington D.C. They'll attend a Memorial Day picnic with other spellers and their families on Monday.

On Tuesday, the bee begins with a computer-based spelling test. Contestants will be given 50 words to spell, but only half will count toward their preliminary score. Spellers will not know which words are the "score words." Spellers also will not find out their scores until Wednesday.

On Wednesday all spellers will compete in the bee's first two oral rounds, so each will spell two words onstage. No one is eliminated at this point, but each correct spelling is worth three points.

The score from rounds two and three, which will air live on ESPN3, will combine with spellers' computer round score to determine who will advance to the semifinal rounds on Thursday.

The semifinals begin at 10 a.m. that day. These rounds will air live on ESPN2. Spellers will be disqualified as soon as they misspell in these rounds.

Once judges determine the field has been sufficiently winnowed down, remaining spellers will advance to the bee's championship finals, which will air at 8 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2.

The national champion will win a $30,000 cash prize; an engraved trophy; a $2,500 savings bond; a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster; a $5,000 scholarship from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation; $2,600 worth of reference materials from Encyclopedia Britannica; and an online language course and Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader from Middlebury Interactive Languages.

The Gazette-Mail will cover Elizabeth's journey throughout Bee Week. Stories will appear in both the Gazette and Daily Mail, with updates on www.wvgazette.com and www.dailymail.com throughout the week. You also can follow @ZackHarold on Twitter for live tweets from the event.

"The entire experience is exhilarating," Elizabeth said. "I love meeting new people, finding new words and tips. I will miss the spelling bees. I'll always have those memories."

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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