Clarksville Middle student wins county spelling bee

Sam Osheroff will go on to national competition in June

March 28, 2010|By John-John Williams IV | john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Sam Osheroff had only one goal heading into this year's Howard County Spelling Bee. The 11-year-old sixth-grader wanted to improve on his third-place finish in last year's competition.

Sam started his preparation for the competition a couple of months ago. He studied hundreds of flash cards from spelling competition word guides - even studying poolside while vacationing with his family in the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos.

All the preparation and sacrifice paid off March 12 when the Clarksville Middle School student beat out 63 others from across the county and won the annual Howard County Spelling Bee.

Sam, who won a $1,000 scholarship, a trophy and a copy of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, will now go on to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington from June 2-4.

Siri Neerchal, a fifth-grade student at Centennial Lane Elementary School, was the second-place finalist. Siri, who won a $750 scholarship as well as a trophy and dictionary, will serve as the alternate at the national competition.

"Subconsciously, I was fighting to win the bee and do as well as I could," said Sam. "I was definitely a little frustrated [with last year's finish]. I resolved to study harder and better my performance."

Sam correctly spelled "pugilant" to win the competition in the 10th round.

"I hadn't heard it before," Sam said of the winning word. "I kind of spelled it like it sounded. I tried to spell it to the best of my ability. It didn't put me down that I hadn't heard it before. I had a lot of adrenaline. I was nervous. But I knew that I was on a good track."

It's fitting that Sam correctly spelled pugilant, which means "of, or relating to boxing," because of his competitive nature. He applies the same passionate spirit to everything he does, whether it is playing soccer, basketball, piano or the trumpet.

"I definitely have a fairly competitive nature," he said.

Sam's father, Joe, attributes his son's success to an early appreciation of reading.

"He's a voracious reader," he said. Sometimes "he won't come to the dinner table because he's reading. [Sam] read the first three Harry Potter books before he got to kindergarten. [Reading has been] a tremendous foundation for him.

"The bee piqued his interest," Joe Osheroff said. "He ran with it. We are just trying to support him as much as we can as a family. "

Sam has been flooded with support and good wishes since the county competition, which was held at Howard High School.

"All my friends were congratulating me," he said. "It was cool. All these people are backing me, whether I win or lose. I have a whole school's worth of people who are like that."

At Clarksville Middle, Sam has become something of a local celebrity, according to Principal Melissa Shindel.

"We're so excited for him," she said. "Just walking in the hallway with him, kids were high-fiving him. He's a great kid and a great student."

Sam is now preparing for the national competition. In addition to studying Greek and Latin words that he finds more difficult, he plans to study a soon-to-be-released list of supplemental words compiled by competition officials at the national level.

"I think he's approached it in a very healthy way," said his mother, Nicole Pilevsky. "It is not something that has consumed his whole life. But he is very invested."

Pilevsky said she and her husband are good spellers. She's quick to point out that Sam is better than both of them.

"Sam exceeds our skills in spelling," she said with a laugh. "You have to have a part of you that is a natural at this. Sam is a natural."

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