Second time’s a charm

Published 7:57 am Wednesday, February 24, 2010

COURTLAND—Walter Francis spelled himself a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. this June.

The 13-year-old Southampton Middle School eighth-grader from Capron came out on top in a field of 36 spellers from across Hampton Roads and Northeastern North Carolina at a spelling bee sponsored by the Virginian-Pilot at the studios of WHRO in Norfolk last Saturday.

His first thoughts after winning: “Oh dear God, I have to go to Washington and spell now.”

“He is now very excited,” said Walter’s mother, Allison Francis. She said that she and her husband, Walter, “are very proud” of their son. “He had some tough, tough words.”

It wasn’t Walter’s first trip to the regional bee. He placed second last year, but wasn’t sure about competing this year.

“I wanted to, but right then I was just so tired of spelling I just wanted to take a break,” he said.

Walter almost didn’t get a chance to participate in the spelling bee. He actually finished second in the spelling bee at SMS. Sixth-grader Kirby Brooks of Ivor won. The 11-year-old son of Beverly and Kirby Brooks missed the regional bee because he participates in a program called Odyssey of the Mind, and had a competition Saturday.

Jane Stephenson, a teacher at SMS, coached the spelling bee participants. She said, “it was a good situation” for both boys because this was the last year Walter would be eligible to compete and Kirby could come back next year.

Stephenson said Walter’s love of reading is likely what makes him such a good speller.

“I love working with Walter,” Stephenson said. “He loves to read, and that helps make him successful with his words, and he also just has a love of the English language.”

Walter’s mother agreed.

“I guess that’s where he gets that gift from, because he surely did not get it from me — or his daddy,” Francis said with a laugh.

She said it was nerve-wracking watching her son compete.

“Your adrenaline is pumping,” Francis said. “You hold your breath the whole time he’s spelling.”

Walter said he didn’t think about winning during the bee.

“I was basically just taking it word by word,” he said.

In addition to his all-expenses paid trip to the National Spelling Bee, Walter also received a trophy, DELL laptop computer, $100 savings bond and a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary — the official Scripps dictionary.

Stephenson said she plans to work hard with Walter so he can “succeed as well up there as he did in Norfolk.

“It’s going to be fun working with him for the next three months,” she said.

Walter said a win in the national bee would mean a full scholarship to the college of his choice.

“That would be amazing,” he said. He said the bee, which is televised on ESPN, would also give him the opportunity to “brag to my cousin Jack, who’s really sporty, that I made it on to ESPN before he did.”

Walter’s winning performance at the regional spelling bee will be rebroadcast on WHRO Kids, channel 15.3, this Saturday at 7 p.m.