Practice pays off for Bedford spelling bee winner

Bee champion Michelle Yakubek reacts after spelling noblesse to defeat runner-up Benjamin Benjadol, left, at the regional spelling bee Wednesday at TCU.
Bee champion Michelle Yakubek reacts after spelling noblesse to defeat runner-up Benjamin Benjadol, left, at the regional spelling bee Wednesday at TCU. Star-Telegram

Eighth-grader Michelle Yakubek practiced 1,000 words a day to get ready for the regional spelling bee Wednesday at TCU.

Among them was noblesse — meaning “noble birth or condition” — which she spelled correctly to win the bee and advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 24-29 in Washington, D.C.

The regional contest, at the Brown-Lupton University Union, was sponsored by the TCU Center for Public Education and the Star-Telegram.

“I’m still nervous,” Yakubek, a Bedford teen who attends Harmony Science Academy in Euless, said after her victory. She is the first girl to win the regional bee since 2009.

“I really didn’t think I would win,” she said, adding that she took lots of deep breaths to calm her nerves.

Twenty-six students from North Texas competed. Participants had to win one of the 491 local events hosted by schools in a 16-county area. Then they had to win one of 25 area-level bees.

Contestants attend public, private, parochial, charter and home schools.

Benjamin Benjadol, an eighth-grader at Central Junior High School in Bedford, was the runner-up for the fourth consecutive year. The word that eliminated him in the 18th round was verisimilitude, meaning “the quality or state of having the appearance of truth.”

Benjadol said he should have known how to spell it because it was among his practice words.

“I feel the mistake I made was preventable,” he said. “Michelle was really, really good.”

Training for nationals

Yakubek has competed in spelling bees since the fourth grade, but Wednesday marked her first time at the regional level.

“She was happy just to make it here,” said her father, Doug Yakubek.

She prepares with help from her mother, Jing Yakubek.

Michelle Yakubek said she had studied noblesse while picking out words from a dictionary. She used her imagination as a tool Wednesday, envisioning how the words she was given would look if printed in a book.

Asked how she feels about going to the national competition, Yakubek responded: “Studying. And I’m excited, too.”

Yakubek, who likes math and computer coding, said she will practice as many words as she can fit into a day.

“She is dedicated,” her father said. “She doesn’t give up.”

The 13-year-old also finds time to practice archery and take part in math and science competitions.

Spelling-bee career ends

Benjadol and Yakubek have competed at spelling bees together at the district and school levels.

Wednesday’s competition was bittersweet for Benjadol, who congratulated Yakubek and promised to watch her on TV.

“My spelling bee career is over now,” Benjadol said, adding that he has four second-place trophies.

“My first time here was in second grade, and I got third place then. I didn’t come back until fifth grade. I’ve gotten second all the way from fifth to eighth.”

Benjadol is competing in next week’s state-level National Geographic Bee in Bedford. He tied for 11th at last year’s National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C. This year’s national competition will be held from May 11 to May 13 at the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The spellers were welcomed to the competition Wednesday by Mary Martin Patton, dean of TCU’s College of Education, and Bob Ray Sanders, associate editor and senior columnist for the Star-Telegram.

Yakubek will have the opportunity to audit a TCU course and also wins an expenses-paid trip to the national spelling bee, a cash award, a trophy, a subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online and the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

Can you spell?

Some of the words during Wednesday’s spelling bee:

Nenuphar: A white waterlily

Masala: Mixtures of spices used in South Asian cuisine

Anschluss: A political union, especially the one unifying Nazi Germany and Austria in 1938

Mynheer: Used as a courtesy title before the name of a man in a Dutch-speaking area

Kielbasa: A spicy smoked Polish sausage

Nasute: Having a nice sense of smell

Navicular: A boat-shaped bone in the ankle or wrist

Desuetude: A state of disuse

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram