Seventh-grader Devan Waghray has been writing down in a notebook the words of the day from Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.
“By the end of the month, I have like 60 words,” said Waghray,12. “Some are easy words and I know the definition and some are ‘what in the world are those?’ sort of thing.”
Waghray, who attends Manassas Christian School, will be one of 565 spellers competing in the 92nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., from May 27-30.
Studying hundreds of words, Waghray said he’s learned why English is unique.
“It takes words from every language: Dutch, Arabic, Russian, German,” he said.
For instance, a Dutch word “boekweit” is spelled in English as buckwheat. English adopted the definition, but not the spelling, a process dubbed folk etymology, Waghray said. “That’s how English gets interesting words.”
Waghray qualified for the national bee by winning the 41st annual Prince William Regional Spelling Bee, sponsored by InsideNoVa and the Bel-Air Women’s Club. He defeated 48 elementary and middle school students representing schools in Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park at the bee in March.
Waghray, who enjoys playing and learning the guitar, practicing martial arts and learning about history, visited the convention center in Maryland earlier this month with his family to become familiar with the venue.
“It’s huge,” Waghray said. “There are rooms spread out everywhere — ballrooms everywhere. It’s just a very big place. I’ve never been in a hotel that big.”
Spellers can bring one family member. Waghray and his grandmother, Frances Waghray, will attend the competition, while other family members will visit when possible.
“I’m looking forward to meeting other like-minded people,” Waghray said. “I hope to have fun. It’s going to be very fun there.”
After a multiple-choice test on May 27 that includes vocabulary questions as well as spelling, spellers will compete on-stage May 28 and 29. On May 29, up to 50 spellers will be selected to continue to the semi-finals on May 30. Semi-finalists are chosen based on their scores on the test as well as their on-stage performance.
At 10 a.m. May 30, the remaining spellers will begin competing in a live broadcast on ESPN2. About a dozen spellers will advance to finals at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 30, which will be broadcast on ESPN.
The national winner will receive $40,000 from Scripps, as well as other prizes. The winner will also travel to New York City to appear on “Live with Kelly and Ryan.”
Waghray said friends at school have been quizzing him. He even studies words on the school bus on the way home.
While he reads, he’ll also jot down interesting words in his notebook. When asked which books are his favorite, Waghray said, “Oh, gosh, there are a lot of them.” He likes authors Tom Clancy and J.R.R. Tolkien. He also liked H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” and plans to read books by Jules Verne this summer.
He also has been reading the dictionary, studying prefixes and suffixes, and his grandmother, Frances Waghray, quizzes him, he said. He sets weekly goals for himself.
“Now that the [school] year is ending, there is less homework,” Waghray said. “I get home, do homework, eat dinner, and after that my time is devoted to studying [spelling]. A lot of spare time goes to studying for it.”
His younger brother, Asa, 7, and his parents will be cheering him on, said Devandra Waghray, Devan’s father. Devan Waghray’s family in India and England will be cheering for him, as well.
“We’ve been very proud of Devan for quite some time,” Devandra Waghray said. “I think this has matured him as well as a person.”
Devandra Waghray said he, his wife and the school are already proud of him. “[Our] message to him: He’s already won.”