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  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The final three contestants at the 63rd annual Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center, from left, Una VanWyns­berghe, Isaac Warner and Aditya Vaidya vie for the title Saturday.

  • Una VanWynsberghe, a seventh-grader at Lincoln­view Junior High, waits to hear whether she spelled her word correctly Saturday.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Olivia Priester, a sixth-grader at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, spells her word at Saturday’s spelling bee.

Saturday, March 11, 2017 10:17 pm

Details spell out winning formula

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Una VanWynsberghe’s big takeaway from participating in last year’s 89th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee was the importance of words’ definitions and country of origin.

Those details, she said, "are way more important than I thought" because they give clues to correctly teasing out the spelling.

So on Saturday, even when faced with a familiar word such as "alligator," the 13-year-old seventh-grader from Van Wert, Ohio, asked for all the information she was allowed. That also included part of speech and alternative pronunciations.

It’s that attention to detail that propelled Una to the championship of the 63rd annual Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee presented by STAR Financial Bank. Once again, she will go on to represent the region in Washington, D.C., in May.

Una’s road to victory wasn’t an easy one. It began with "chutney" and ended with "rosalia." Other notable words along the way were "plausible," "bravura," "schnauzer," "sevruga," "keelhaul" and "tableau."

Knowing whether a word is an adjective or an adverb makes it easier to guess whether it ends in "-ible" or "-able" for words including "plausible."

"A lot of the words were the same" as in previous competitions, she said. "And a lot of the words were music words, and I know those anyway."

Una, who began playing the trumpet last fall, hopes to be a band director one day. For now, the farm family spends about an hour a day practicing the words she has written on index cards.

Aditya Vaidya, a sixth-grader from Kosciusko County, was the runner-up from a field of 16, representing northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.

The 12-year-old, who hopes to become an astronomer one day, correctly spelled words including "layette," "quell," "lariat," "beriberi" and "roleo."

Now that he won’t be drilling spelling words with his parents for about 90 minutes each day, Aditya will have more time for his robotics club. Chess is another one of his favorite pursuits.

It took Una 18 rounds to put away her competition.

During round 17, Aditya incorrectly spelled "ballotage," which is defined as "a second vote taken to decide between the two or three highest candidates when no candidate receives a majority of the first vote." Una correctly spelled "roux," a cooking term that she’d come across previously while cooking with her mother, Rachel ­VanWynsberghe.

Una went on to spell the championship word: "rosalia," which is defined as "a melody in which a phrase or passage is successively repeated each time a step or half step higher."

In 2015, Una was runner-up in her elementary school’s competition. Last year she correctly spelled "tapioca" to win Lincolnview Elementary’s school competition. With "penultimate," she won the regional spelling bee, which earned her entry into the national contest and her first airplane ride.

Once in Washington, Una took a written spelling test with almost 300 other competitors but was eliminated during a preliminary oral spelling round.

But that’s the past. Since then, Una has increased her vocabulary at every opportunity with lots of reading, a keen ear for new words and her parents’ help.

Her father, Dewey VanWynsberghe, drills her on words. The family makes a game of looking up words they don’t recognize in clues while watching the quiz show "Jeopardy!"

"It’s changed our vocabulary as a family," he said. "We just explore things in general, and she’s got a natural talent."

Although she’s won spelling competition at several levels by now, Una isn’t jaded about her victories. She’s "not confident at all" about the national bee.

And asked how she planned to celebrate Saturday’s win, Una admitted her family hadn’t even talked about it.

"For the county (bee win), we got ice cream cake," she said, "and that was pretty great."

sslater@jg.net