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At 5, Girl Becomes Youngest To Qualify For National Spelling Bee

Edith Fuller, 5, outlasted much older competitors in a regional spelling bee, earning a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
KJRH, Tulsa
Edith Fuller, 5, outlasted much older competitors in a regional spelling bee, earning a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

Edith Fuller, 5, has booked a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, after she out-spelled dozens of older competitors to win a regional bee in Tulsa, Okla. The home-schooled student will be the youngest competitor ever in the national spelling bee, which will hold its 90th contest in May.

The folks at Scripps are already calling Fuller the latest "spellebrity."

Fuller beat kids more than twice her age at the Scripps Green Country Regional Spelling Bee this past weekend, outlasting dozens of other students and correctly spelling 37 words in around five hours of competition. Her final word, "jnana," is a Sanskrit word that refers to an elevated state of knowledge.

Other words Fuller had to spell to earn her way to the national bee in Washington, D.C., include sevruga (a type of caviar); virgule (an accent mark); Nisei (a child of Japanese immigrants who is born in the U.S.); jacamar (a long-billed bird); and alim (a Muslim scholar).

It all started last summer, when Edith surprised her parents by spelling "restaurant" correctly, her mother Annie, told the Tulsa World newspaper.

Here's how Edith Fuller described her daily training regimen, according to Tulsa's KJRH TV, organizer of the regional bee in Oklahoma:

"My mommy asked me words, and every time I misspelled one, I would look at it."

As footage from KJRH shows, the bee's young champion stood out from the field in more ways than one.

Wearing a white bow, Fuller's head barely topped the back of her chair as she shared the stage with her opponents, some of whom were 14-year-olds who are in the eighth grade. And while other students were sometimes prone to nervous fidgeting, Fuller resembled an island of calm.

When she spoke to the judges, Fuller smiled as she navigated a list of words that would trip up many adults. When she returned to her seat, other students would sometimes offer a high-five or a smile — and some, perhaps understandably, simply stared as the littlest girl on stage kept advancing, using the shorter of two microphone stands so her soft voice could be heard in the auditorium at the Oral Roberts Global Learning Center.

By the end of the day, four rows of seats had been emptied and the five-year-old was the last speller standing.

Fuller represented the TBC Home Education Fellowship; now she'll be eastern Oklahoma's speller at the national bee in Washington.

"I'm going to D.C.!" she said with a smile as the event wound down, drawing applause from the audience.

If you're wondering how the spelling bee includes home-school students, organizers of the Tulsa competition say that while schools can pay a fee of either $145 (for early-bird entries) or $220 to enter their top speller, parents of home-schooled kids can pay an entrance fee of between $102 and $177.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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