EL CENTRO — Sunflower elementary student Nathan Ostermann, 11, won the 12th Annual Regional Spelling Bee competition Wednesday evening, beating 57 other participants from 30 schools at Southwest High School’s Jimmie Cannon Theater.
Ostermann’s winning word was I-N-T-E-R-R-E-L-A-T-E.
From rounds 10 to 13, the final four rounds of the competition, sixth grader Ostermann, and Wilhelmina Manaig, 13, an eighth-grader at Frank Wright Middle School in Imperial, challenged each other in an intense volley with each spelling their assigned words correctly.
The audience was silent during their spar of words. Spelling Bee pronouncer John Lazarcik took time to enunciate each word and responded to requests by the two remaining competitors for clarification, origin, or meaning of words.
Finally, in the 14th round, only one emerged as the champion of the 12th Regional Spelling Bee in Imperial County.
When Lazarcik announced he was the winner, Ostermann slowly, as if in disbelief, turned towards the audience with a shy smile. The rest of the chairs were now empty except for one. Behind him and seated alone, Manaig clapped her hands as attention from the audience immediately shifted towards Ostermann and the crowd exploded with cheers.
Todd Evangelist, the event organizer from the Imperial County Office of Education, presented the trophy to Ostermann and the student held up his trophy — which was about half his height. Later, as he was being congratulated by friends, teachers, and family members, Ostermann seemed reserved showing his excitement. For a young man well- versed in spelling words, he was shy during the interview.
“It’s amazing and I’m grateful for it. I have participated three other times, but I have never won,” Ostermann said.
This time, however, Ostermann is going to represent Imperial Valley at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in May.
Ostermann’s advice to aspiring students was “Just keep on studying, and studying, and studying and studying and you’ll get it. One day you will.”
“I had my family members quiz me on the words everyday. Occasionally, I would go over them by myself and try to learn the syllables of each word,” he said about his training.
David Ostermann said he was excited for his son. “I’m so proud of him. He worked really hard. He went through all his words. He had such great composure up there. I’m so proud of him,” the champ’s father said.
Nathan’s mother, Therese, was likewise overjoyed. “I’m a little overwhelmed. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.”
Nathan’s grandparents, Fred and Anne Freese, were visiting from Iowa, and spent their vacation time practicing words with Nathan. They said they studied and reviewed words from the Spelling Bee words list on the internet. His hours of preparation, in addition to his regular school requirements, increased in momentum from February until the day of the contest, with added hours dedicated to memorization as the time came closer.
In his opening remarks prior to the bee, J. Todd Finnell, county Superintendent of Schools, thanked the parents and educators in caring for their children and students. Finnell said there were 58 participants from 30 schools in Imperial County in this year’s spelling competition.
The event program listed the names of two delegates from each school except for Miguel Hidalgo and Myron D. Witter elementary schools, which had only one representative each. Students ranged from kindergarten through eighth grades with Julia Murillo Nuñez, 6, as the youngest participant. She is a kindergarten student at Ballington Academy.
Two-time Regional Spelling Bee champion Jillian Fusi, 15, and her parents watched from seats in the rear section of the theater. Twice, Fusi represented Imperial County in Washington, DC. as she won her first Regional Spelling Bee in sixth-grade in 2013 and again during eighth grade in 2015. Fusi and Ostermann both competed in the local Spelling Bee in 2014 and 2015.
Even though she was not up on the stage, Fusi said she still felt the pressure.
“It’s definitely a very different feeling, but I still feel a lot of their nerves,” Fusi said. “It is so stressful every time someone gets up to spell. It’s like, ‘Oh, I hope they do it right.’”
Indeed, Nathan Ostermann did it right his fourth time competing.