CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kathryn Wantlin stepped to the microphone 30 times Saturday at the 57th annual Kanawha County Spelling Bee.
Shalee, her mother, was nervous every time.
Even though Kathryn is a top-notch speller -- the eighth-grader from Charleston Catholic High School took top honors at the county bee for the third straight year -- her mom has more than the average parental jitters.
"I cannot help her much," she said. "I am not an English speaker."
Kathryn's mother is Chinese. Her command of English seems good, but helping Kathryn study in her non-native language is a challenge.
The mom thinks her daughter's voracious reading and diligent studying both at home and at school are the keys to her spelling success.
The soft-spoken Kathryn, an avid piano player who wants to be a doctor or an engineer when she grows up, had a simple answer for her success.
"I just like to memorize things," she said as she clutched the trophy she earned for winning the bee.
She does love to ready fantasy novels, especially the Harry Potter series. ("Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," the second of the seven books in the series, was her favorite.)
But the language challenge doesn't keep her mom from helping. The two will work from some of her textbooks occasionally, Kathryn said.
However, she usually studies in solitude. Kathryn said she spend 30 to 45 minutes a day reading through word lists. She tries to find new words but comes back to familiar ones as well.
She came face to face with an old word, "nordic," in the championship round of the bee Saturday afternoon at South Charleston High School.
As soon as pronouncer Kennie Bass, a television anchor for WCHS, said the word, Kathryn knew she had the victory.
It was the 278th word of the day and the 30th for Kathryn to spell correctly.
More than 60 other spellers in grades four through eight challenged Kathryn for her crown, none more so than Lauren Coccari.
The eighth-grader from Sissonville Middle School has squared off against Kathryn in the finals for each of the last three years, both spellers pushing each other on.