Winston-Salem Journal

The day after Gabrielle L. Brown finished as runner-up in the Winston-Salem Journal’s annual Regional Spelling Bee last year, she returned to her spelling lists and dictionary, determined to reign as the region’s best speller.

On Sunday, the 14-year old from Salisbury, with the rest of the field of 32 watching in the stands, stepped to the mic. Spell the next word correctly, and she would clinch her first title in four attempts.

When Robin Richards, the pronouncer, said: “Roturier,” Gabrielle, who had been so poised throughout the 2½-hour competition, was barely able to contain her excitement, balling her fists, bouncing ever so slightly in her boots and allowing the smallest of smiles to form.

With the nod that she had spelled the word correctly, Gabrielle put her hands to her face and was soon mobbed off stage by an entourage of about 20 friends and family, some of whom had traveled from Texas and Louisiana to watch her compete.

Gabrielle, who is representing the home school Region 3, will move on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., which begins May 31.

“I’ve spent so many hours studying, so to finally win this, I’m so happy,” said Gabrielle, who edged Max Dyer of Central Piedmont nonpublic schools, Gabrielle Soto-Allison of Davidson County Schools, and Aryan Malhotra of Iredell-Statesville Schools for the win.

Gabrielle spelled a range of difficult words, including “subcutaneous,” but she said she felt good after each of them.

Before strolling to the mic each time, she said a little prayer, asking to be “confident, clear-headed and to get a word I know,” she said with a laugh.

The word that tripped her the most? “Tension,” perhaps the easiest word she faced all day.

It threw her a bit, she said, because it wasn’t on the spelling lists she had pored over.

Gabrielle has always loved words, said her mother, Tammy Brown.

“And she’s competitive by nature, so it became overcoming the dictionary at this bee,” Tammy Brown said.

As for the national competition, Gabrielle said her goal is to simply do well.

Orion Sledge-Ricks, a student at the Arts Based School in Winston-Salem, put in his share of hard work, too, spending about 30 minutes each day looking over spelling lists and working with flash cards with his mom. He finished in the top half of the field.

In the final rounds, he hoped not to face words of German origin, which he finds challenging.

The word that finally got him was “ulterior,” which is Latin in origin.

Other tricky words for spellers were “grokked,” “skookum” and “reresupper.”