Dayton student learns more than words from national spelling bee
Morgan Bumgardner, 13, learned to keep his cool this year on stage in front of a large audience, though it might have helped he wasn’t the last of his group to spell his word.
“I’m just trying to think about good things, about me getting my word right, and when I’m up there, I try not to show emotion,” he said. “I think it’s better not to show emotion.”
Bumgardner, a Dayton Intermediate School student, made his second appearance at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 28 and 29 in Washington, D.C. He placed 51st in the contest, just missing the cutoff to advancing to the finals. Still, he significantly improved his own standing from his debut in the national competition from the prior year and exceeded his own expectations.
For the eighth grader from Mound House, that was what he’d hoped to accomplish for himself.
“I felt more confident this time around,” he said. “Last year was my first year. You get really nervous.”
He went from 453rd in nationals last year to 51st this year. The competition began with two rounds of spelling and a test. Scores were determined and narrowed to 50 finalists, and Bumgardner just missed the finals.
He spelled both of his words correctly. In the first round, he spelled “lexigraphy” correctly and in the second round he spelled “elation” correctly.
Regardless of the outcome, he was keen to show improvement in his spelling abilities over his previous year with the help of his coach, DIS English honors teacher Becky Greer. She accessed the Scripps spelling list and said often there were words on the list even she wasn’t familiar with or had difficulty pronouncing.
“He came in faithfully every morning and he would come and he and I would go through it,” Greer said. “I know he studied every night and asked what’s the word of origin and to put it in a sentence or what’s the definition, so he was very thorough, and part of that was giving him the time to think about it and to visualize what the word would look like.”
Scripps requires students to spell from memory. They’re not allowed to write them out. As a county spelling judge, Greer said she observed Bumgardner against other contestants and he never displayed any hesitation. She said she never had any doubt he would make it to the state bee. He also had the full support of his parents, both of whom are Lyon County School District administrators, which helped him successfully make it to nationals.
With his parents and staff support available to him, Bumgardner took advantage of every opportunity to study for the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals, even using his time in long lines at Disneyland to read lists on his phone or other family trips to learn words.
“For a lot, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “You have to find the time to study.”
Bumgardner gradually built up confidence in his second go-round at the national competition. He could anticipate the rounds better and keep his emotions in check a little more.
But he also was able to make friends better, too, as a result of his previous experience, he said. A social media app was developed just for the Scripps participants, which helped to build some connections for students who traveled across the United States. He said he also enjoyed the support of local friends and teachers at home who sought to watch whenever they could, but being in different time zones and broadcasts often made it difficult.
The preparation time to get to nationals was a valuable experience, according to the middle schooler, who said being from a rural community like Dayton could make a larger impact on something like Scripps than one thinks.
“I got out of the experience that you can do a big thing even if you’re from a smaller community like Dayton,” he said. “Doing stuff like this can make people think, ‘Hey this place is out here.’
“What I got from it was that you can make a lot of friends along the way and those friends can last a while and forever even because of how friendly everyone is and people will help you and people will try to win, obviously, but they’re friendly.”
DIS Principal Kevin Kranjcec praised Bumgardner’s efforts, including his talents as a band member. When he’s not focused on spelling, he’s also a baritone and euphonium player and has an interest in robotics. When he attends Dayton High School next year, he said he wants to explore the culinary arts and likely will take up soccer.
“Morgan is a hard-working, musically gifted and academically talented young man that has worked extremely hard to accomplish his goals in making it to the National Spelling Bee in back-to-back years,” Kranjcec said. “He has represented himself, Dayton Intermediate School and the entire Dayton/Lyon County community extremely well.
“We are all so very proud of Morgan in not just reaching the National Spelling Bee, but finishing 51st in the nation is quite impressive!”