Clifton Students Participate in the 3rd Annual Diamond City Regional Spelling Bee

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Clifton students Joseph Zuniga (8th grade at Christopher Columbus Middle School) (CCMS) and Ash McClelland (5th grade at Passaic Arts & Science Charter Middle School) (PASCS),  represented their schools at the 3rd Annual Diamond City Regional Spelling Bee in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Sunday, March 12, 2023. The Regional Spelling Bee is the qualifier to join the famous Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is held in the D.C. area in the last week of May (Bee Week), and pits the best spellers in the nation against one another.

Although neither student won the overall competition, it was a great day that gave all of the students the opportunity to be on the big stage and compete. Both Clifton spellers left the Regional Bee with a sense of pride in their accomplishment at getting up on an unfamiliar stage, in an unfamiliar area, and competing. We interviewed both Clifton students and asked them what they learned from the experience. 

Wilkes-Barre - 3rd Annual Diamond City Regional Qualifier. When parents and students walked into the Wilkes-Barre High School Auditorium, you could feel the energy. Every student had won their school spelling bees, and they were excited and nervous for the next level of competition. There were seats set up on the stage for the 77 young spellers who were invited to come up, get comfortable, and ask their questions about the rules before the Bee started. Kevin Sickle, the president of Diamond City Sports, explained that the Regional Bees serve as a bridge between the school bees, where winning will depend on your ability to memorize, and the Scripps National Spelling Bee, where so much depends on the ability to recognize patterns in words you might not be familiar with. Sickle congratulated all the spellers on making it this far and reminded them that while there can only be one winner, everyone participating should be very proud of themselves for what they’ve learned.

The Bee is a traditional spell down - each speller gets one word and if they get it wrong, they’re eliminated. Sickle served as the Pronouncer, and would call each student up by name, give the word (including alternate pronunciations), answer questions about the origins and meanings of the word, and would use it in a sentence if asked. Each participant then had to repeat the word and spell it. The three-judge panel would then determine if the word was correctly spelled and if the rules were followed. If the word was incorrect or a participant restarted a word or otherwise didn’t follow the rules of the competition, they rang a bell, and the speller left the stage.

The competition went on for five hours, from 2 pm until 7 pm and at the end, the last speller standing was Aaditya Aiyer of Clinton Township (NJ) Middle School. He won the 3rd Annual Diamond City Regional Spelling Bee with the championship word of merganser and will represent our region in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the Washington D.C. area at the end of May. Rhea Mascarenhas (St. Jude School) was in 2nd place, Owen Macfarlane (Kutztown Area Middle School) was in 3rd place, and Clifton’s own Joseph Zuniga came in 4th.

Scripps Spelling Bee. The Scripps National Spelling Bee began in 1925 when nine newspapers joined together to host a spelling bee. More than 90 years later this literacy effort has gone national and reaches 11 million students each year across the United States. The Scripps National Spelling Bee works with Merriam-Webster to come up with a Words of the Champions list of 4,000 interesting and meaningful words that the spellers might encounter in their competitions. Participants must be under 15 and the Spelling Bee is generally limited to students in the 4th to 8th grades, though Scripps will allow 2nd and 3rd graders to participate as well.

Last year’s winner Harini Logan won over 234 other spellers with the championship word of moorhen, and took home $50,000, reference works from Merriam-Webster and Encyclopedia Britannica, as well as additional monetary prizes and the coveted Scripps Cup. 

Regional Sponsors: The Spelling Bee has 175 regional sponsors that reach out to the schools in their regions and help support them in administering the school level spelling bees, first-in-classroom competitions, and then the full-school spelling bees that determine who will represent each school. Joseph Zuniga (8th grade at Christopher Columbus Middle School) told us that he first won the competition for his ELA (English Language Arts) classroom and then bested the other ELA classroom winners, to win for all of CCMS. Once a certain number of school winners are qualified, the next step is for them to take the Regional Spelling Bee in their region.

The sponsors handle coordination with the schools and make sure that the scripts and materials that Scripps National Spelling Bee creates are delivered properly so every competitor has an even playing field. They also arrange to host the Regional Spelling Bee.  The winner of the Regional Spelling Bee will represent the region for a 7 day trip to the Washington D.C. area with all sorts of events, culminating in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Each participant at the Scripps Spelling Bee stays in a hotel with their family, and that stay is paid for by the sponsors. The 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals will be broadcast on Thursday, June 1, 2023. The Bee will release its full broadcast schedule on spellingbee.com by May 1, 2023.

Diamond City Sports. Diamond City Sports is a non-profit grassroots organization that started as a wiffleball league 20 years ago and then added various other sports. Diamond City Sports was founded in Wilkes-Barre, Pa, which is known as the Diamond City. They are committed to providing affordable recreational activities for children, youth, and adults alike while promoting the ideals of community and personal responsibility, dedication, sportsmanship, and camaraderie in a safe, positive environment. They provide structured programs in sports but also teach and facilitate competition in a fun, safe, and positive way through the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Kevin Sickle, the President of Diamond City Sports spoke to The Clifton Times to answer questions about the 3rd Annual Diamond City Regional Qualifier. He told us that Diamond City Sports stepped in to sponsor the Regional Bee for the Wilkes-Barre area three years ago and since then, more and more schools approached them about being part of their region. In 2022 Diamond City Sports had a region that covered 52 schools (across 10 counties, 8 in Pennsylvania and only 2 in NJ). This year, the region has grown to cover 83 schools across 15 counties - 8 in Pennsylvania and 7 in New Jersey. This is the first year that Passaic county was included in their region. Diamond City Sports took over those counties out of their commitment that anyone who wants to participate should have the opportunity to do so.

Sickle told me that normally the competition was limited to 4th through 8th grade students, but Scripps gives the option of adding 2nd and 3rd graders. This year there were two 3rd graders who made it all the way to the final 10. Diamond City Sports is committed to inclusion, so they believe that if 2nd and 3rd graders can win at their schools, they should have the chance to move up to the Regionals.

Sickle remarked, “not every kid can be in sports, or band or debate, but everyone has something they can excel at.” The Spelling Bee brings together a very diverse group of students and draws them in to be part of something bigger than just their school, to imagine themselves competing on a national level. Participating in the Spelling Bee gives students a chance to get a better sense of self, think on their feet, and have the confidence to speak up in public. It also creates a powerful sense of camaraderie. During the five-hours-long Regional Spelling Bee on Sunday, the competitors encouraged and supported one another. There are 300 schools in the 15 counties that Diamond City Sports sponsors. If you know a school that would like to participate, please reach out to Kevin Sickle at Diamond City Sports.

Interviews with our Spellers!
Joseph Zuniga: Joseph Zuniga (8th grade at CCMS) told us that he lasted 11 rounds, nearly the full five hours, and came in fourth place of the 77 participants. He was eliminated on the word chicle. When asked what he had learned from the experience, Joseph said, “I think that I’ve learned to prepare and be prepared because you never know how far you’ll make it. I wish I had prepared a little more. I would tell other kids to do this because it is a fun thing to do and a challenge. It expands your vocabulary.” He said that it helped him to know the rules and he added a clarifying question during his turns to see if the word was singular or plural because he had seen competitors eliminated for forgetting an S or mishearing.

Ash McClelland: Ash McClelland (5th grade at PASCS) was eliminated after three hours when they spelled the word privet correctly but had restarted the word, which is against the rules. When asked how the experience was, Ash said that they were very sad not to have moved on, but that they learned that next time they should have prepared more and been more familiar with the rules. When asked if they would do it again, they said they would definitely consider it.

What Can You Do? Diamond City Sports is committed to expanding the Spelling Bee so that any speller who wants to participate in this event, can. If you know of a Clifton school that is interested, please reach out to your principal and have them contact Kevin Sickle.

The Regional Spelling Bees depend on local businesses to sponsor the events, especially to pay for Bee Week, when all the winning spellers from all around the United States fly to the Washington D.C. area for a week of events and the final competition. If you would like to run an advertisement or support the competition, Diamond City Sports has many opportunities to do so.

If you want to encourage your children to become good spellers, it is important to remember that good spellers are generally good readers. The Scripps National Spelling Bee started as an attempt to encourage literacy. Educators recommend that parents read to their children as much as possible, with an emphasis on sounding out words clearly. The Clifton Public Library participates in a program called 1000 Books Before Kindergarten to encourage child literacy, which is a great start to growing a lifelong love of reading and spelling.



Joseph Zuniga (8th grade at Christopher Columbus Middle School) finished 4th and proudly represented CCMS
Ash McClelland (5th grade at Passaic Arts & Science Charter Middle School) holds up the medal and trophy they won from their school.
Spellers on stage and ready to compete at the 3rd Annual Diamond City Regional Spelling Bee
Left to right: Jessica Sivick, (Recorder); James Fedor, (Judge); Erika Jacobs, (Head Judge); Kaitlin Sickle, (Judge)
The Scripps Cup is a ceramic cup that features an open book, bees, the honeycomb shape and gladiolus, the first winning word of the first national Bee. Photo credit: Scripps National Spelling Bee
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