The region’s undisputed champion speller is headed for her final shot at a national title.
Rachael Cundey, the region’s five-time spelling bee champ, travels to Washington, D.C., on Sunday morning to compete in her last year of eligibility of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The trip is paid for by The Augusta Chronicle.
“I’m excited to go back, but I’m sad that I’ll never go again,” said Rachael, who this past week completed eighth grade – the last year of eligibility for bee contestants.
In her final year at Lakeside Middle School, Rachael again tallied the highest average for every course she took – including accelerated math and gifted language arts, her mother, Tammy, said.
But it’s in spelling that Rachael’s local records outshine everyone.
She won her first school bee at South Columbia Elementary in fourth grade, in what was then the first year of eligibility. The bee since has added third-graders.
Rachael has won each school bee since, at South Columbia and Lakeside Middle, and then won every Columbia County spelling bee and the regional bee all five years.
At the national bee, her best showing was a 10th-place tie in 2012, but she has high hopes for this year’s competition with 280 other spellers. Only one other is a five-time competitor.
But the contest itself might be a little tougher this year.
“They’ve changed the rules,” Rachael said. “There’s now a vocabulary test.”
In addition, spellers who misspell a word on stage during any round will be out of the competition – a change from previous years in which early-round stumbles were merely part of the scoring.
Contestants will undergo orientation Sunday evening, and ESPN has asked to film another spot with Rachael afterward. A crew from the channel recently visited her school and home for a segment set to air during the competition, which is shown live on ESPN3 and ESPN2.
On Tuesday, each contestant will take computer-based vocabulary and spelling tests. Their first on-stage spelling will be just two words, in sessions Wednesday morning and afternoon.
Fifty finalists announced Wednesday, will take another computer-based test that evening.
After the semifinal round Thursday, the remaining championship finalists will battle Thursday evening for the title, which includes a cash prize of $30,000.
What would she do with such a windfall?
“I would just keep it for college,” Rachael said. “I am a nerd.”