Park Record Bee winner shines on national stage
Inulin: noun — a white plant polysaccharide used especially to improve the flavor and texture of low-fat and low-sugar processed foods.
It was the third round of the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., and Melinda Buhlman stood on the stage in front of a tense crowd and the ESPN cameras broadcasting around the world.
She had never heard the word before.
But she didn’t panic. Instead, she took a moment and a breath and collected her thoughts.
"I compared it to a different word that was pretty similar and spelled it how I would think it would be spelled," said Buhlman, a seventh-grader at Rocky Mountain Middle School in Heber City. "I got it and I was really excited."
It was the last word Buhlman got to spell at last week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, and she walked off stage having done her best. Her preliminary test score — used to narrow the field after the third round — kept her from becoming a finalist. But she returned home knowing that, between the Park Record Spelling Bee in March and the Scripps competition, she never spelled a word wrong.
"(Losing) was a little disappointing for her," said Allison Buhlman, her mother, "but as far as I’m concerned it was not disappointing at all."
Allison Buhlman called it an amazing experience. She watched her daughter spell alongside the best in the country. Before resourcefully figuring out how to spell "inulin," her daughter nailed "emeritus," which was one of 400 words the students had been given beforehand. The rest of the words, including "inulin" came not from a list but from the entirety of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
"I’ve always been a fan of the spelling bee and thought that Scripps was an amazing company," Allison Buhlman said. "But being there live was incredible. She’s put in a lot of hard work, and overall she has to look back and say, ‘I did my best,’ and feel good about that."
Melinda Buhlman said she was nervous to take the preliminary test, but calm when she stepped up to the microphone to spell. After she was out of the competition, it was inspiring to watch the other spellers go back and forth.
"It’s just fun for me," she said. "I’m not into sports or soccer or things like that. Spelling is pretty much what soccer is for other people. It motivates me."
Melinda Buhlman is already preparing to fight her way back to the Scripps competition next year. She’ll have to win the Park Record Spelling Bee for a second year in a row to qualify. But now that she has a better idea of what to expect in Washington, D.C., she’d be an even stronger competitor next year, Allison Buhlman said.
"Watching the finalists on Thursday, she didn’t realize how big vocabulary played a part in this competition," Allison Buhlman said. "She’s an excellent speller and has worked really hard on the spelling aspect, but as she watched these finalists and their skill in figuring out the spelling based on the meaning of the word and using the vocabulary and etymology of the word, it was really apparent that they were just so prepared for this. And it’s encouraged her to amp up her reading and work on her vocabulary."
Melinda Buhlman said the thought of getting another shot to face off against spellers from around the country is motivating.
"I’m going to study word roots and prefixes and suffixes," she said, "so I can use that for words that I don’t know."