Keona Thomas of Manassas Christian School took home the top prize at Tuesday night’s Prince William Spelling Bee, correctly spelling 13 words whose origins spanned three continents to advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee this summer.
Thomas, an eighth-grader who lives in Manassas Park, outlasted 21 other contestants, all winners of their respective schools’ spelling bees, to take home the trophy. She became the third straight winner of the county bee from Manassas Christian after Devan Waghray won the 2019 and 2020 titles.
The spelling bee was presented by InsideNoVa/Prince William and the Bel-Air Woman’s Club at Gar-Field High School Tuesday night, with participants and families masked and spread out through the auditorium. Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center also sponsored this year’s bee. Spellers representing elementary and middle schools – including private schools and home-school associations – from Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park competed.
By the fifth round, the 22 contestants had dwindled to just six remaining spellers, but it would take eight more words for Thomas, 13, to separate herself from the rest.
She went back and forth with Woodbridge Area Classical Conversations eighth-grader Isaac Long over the final three rounds. Her 12th word of the night was “beaucoup,” the French word for “many” or “much.” After she correctly spelled it, Long was tripped up by “civet,” the word for a number of long-bodied carnivorous mammals.
“When I was younger, not so much now, I had this really weird obsession with French culture, so I would teach myself different, weird things about French culture,” Thomas said, explaining why she recognized “beaucoup.”
After Long’s miss, Thomas had one word left to become the champion. Pronouncer Scott Kelly, a teacher at Freedom High School, took Thomas across the Mediterranean Ocean, asking her to spell “Mesopotamian,” which she did with ease.
“It feels nice; this is really exciting,” Thomas said after being handed her trophy. “I don’t get nervous much because I study, so I was pretty confident.”
Ashley Gyawali, an eighth-grader from Manassas Park Middle School, finished third. She was tripped up on “quasar” in the 10th round. Madison Simpson, an eighth-grader at Unity Braxton Middle School, came in fourth after missing “merganser” (a large duck) in the ninth round.
The first rounds of the national spelling bee will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, narrowing the field to a group of 12-15 spellers who will gather at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in July for the finals, which will be televised on ESPN.
Thomas said her preparations for the national bee won’t change much.
“[I’ll prepare] the same way I did for this one. I just study the way I study for all my stuff, I write down the word multiple times and keep pronouncing it, write it down multiple times…,” she said.
The method paid off Tuesday night, as Thomas successfully spelled tawny, omission, accomplice, scullery, jeepney (a Phillipine jitney bus converted from a Jeep, per Merriam-Webster), acrylics, bursary, regicide, retrocedence, evactor (a jet pump) and schooner before nailing beaucoup and Mesopotamian.