A Savvy Speller

Spelling bee competitor Sierra Shoemaker out-spells the judges

Mar 18, 2013 | By Cameron Keady with TIME Reporting

Sierra Shoemaker, 12, shares her spelling bee story with local news station KMPH.

On March 8, a big spelling e-r-r-o-r was made at the Selma Unified School District’s spelling bee, in Selma, California. The mistake was made not by one of the competitors, but by the judges.  Even though 12-year-old Sierra Shoemaker spelled her final word correctly, she was disqualified because the judges thought she had it wrong. “I didn’t want to say anything because if the word master tells you you’ve got a wrong word, you don’t really argue with him,” Sierra told local California news station KMPH.

Word Whiz

The word Sierra was told to spell was “braille,” referring to the written language for people unable to see. Sierra spelled it out correctly, but the judges’ master sheet had the word written down as “b-r-a-i-l-e,” with one ‘l’ missing. Spelling bee spectators immediately recognized the judges’ mistake. So did Sierra. “I looked around at the audience, half of them were looking at each other, murmuring,” said Sierra, speaking to KMPH. She went home with a second place trophy, but was frustrated, realizing that perhaps she could have won the first place prize.

Determined to move on to the next level, Sierra appealed her disqualification. At first, the county denied her appeal. But with the support of her school district, Sierra will now advance to the Fresno County Spelling Bee. If she wins Fresno, she will then go on to represent her county in the California State Spelling Championships.

Beyond each state’s individual spelling bee is the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Winners from state championships move on to compete against each other, as well as against students from countries outside the United States. With her spirit of determination, we just might see Sierra on stage.