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updated: 3/3/2014 1:25 PM

Competitive spelling career over for Palatine 8th-grader

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  • Sarah Griswold at the Walter R. Sundling Junior High library, with two of her favorite books.

      Sarah Griswold at the Walter R. Sundling Junior High library, with two of her favorite books.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Sarah and her mother, Linda, reflect on all the spelling bee awards Sarah has won.

      Sarah and her mother, Linda, reflect on all the spelling bee awards Sarah has won.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer


Eighth-grader Sarah Griswold of Palatine came this close to punching her ticket to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, televised every May on ESPN.

Sarah ultimately wound up in second place last month at the Regional Suburban Cook County Bee, after surviving 17 rounds and eventually going head-to-head with last year's winner, Alia Abiad of Western Springs.

Alia ultimately landed the berth to the national bee, where she will try to advance further than the sixth round where she was eliminated last year. Quest Academy fourth-grader Anmol Dash finished third.

The word, argosy, was the one that tripped Sarah, but she can spell it perfectly now.

Sarah made it to regionals after winning the North Suburban Spelling Bee in January, in Kenilworth, where she again made it through 17 rounds before emerging the champion. Some of the words she spelled correctly included "liquefaction," "vancourier" and "cinephile."

The road began in November, when she won contests in her writing class and ultimately her school, before advancing to the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 bee, which went 43 rounds before a winner was declared.

Sarah has been a competitive speller since she was a third-grader at Quest Academy in Palatine. She now attends Sundling Junior High School, where reading teachers have been holding bees for as long as they can remember.

"It's about more than spelling, it's about a love of words," says Jennifer Buelow, a writing teacher at Sundling, who accompanied Sarah through the various levels of competition. "The kids that do well love words, and for them to put this kind of dedication toward mastering words, is quite an accomplishment."

It translates into overall academic excellence, she adds, and that still resonates with educators even in the day and age of computer technology and spell-checker.

For Sarah, her interest in spelling bees is an extension of her love of reading -- and fast-paced competition.

Currently, she is enjoying the "Divergent" trilogy of books, which explores a dystopian or futuristic version of Chicago. She also loves running and after competing in cross-country last fall, looks forward to track this spring.

Preparing for the bees started with learning the 1,100-word list issued by Scripps. Sarah went over the words on the computer first and then with her father, Jim, who served as the mock "pronouncer."

"He'd make jokes about some of the words, and then when I'd get those words, I always laughed," Sarah said.

During competitions, she says, she tried not to look at either parent -- her mother, Linda, is a substitute teacher in District 15 -- or her grandmother and teachers who attended. Instead, she looked at the ceiling or furthest back of the room, while visualizing her word.

Looking to Sarah's future doesn't take much visualization, says Sundling Principal Jason Dietz.

"If she has a passion for something and sets a goal for herself, she is bound and determined to complete it at the highest level," Dietz says. "Her achievements in the Spelling Bee were no different. She is just a very hard working and determined student."

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