Jessica outlasts field of 72 at spelling bee

H-U-G-U-E-N-O-T. Huguenot – a Calvinistic French Protestant of the 16th and 17th centuries to some, but not to Jessica Zung.

“Well, we had a French exchange student at our school, and his last name was Huguenot,” Jessica, 13, said.

Jessica spelled Huguenot (pronounced hyu-ge-no) to win the fourth annual CanWest CanSpell Regional Spelling Bee on Sunday, Feb. 24.

Held at Ryerson University, Jessica out-spelled 72 other students to win a $5,000 RESP and a chance to win two other spelling bees in Ottawa and Washington, DC.

The 73 students earned their spot by beating out 30,000 other students in the Toronto region.

Jessica Zung and Katie Martin, 11, battled together for five rounds after the words geniform, Sandanista, napery, cornichon, halitosis and ferrous eliminated six others.

For Katie Martin, curvet led the way to Jessica’s victory.
And Jessica had a legacy behind her. “Someone from my school won last year and the year before that, too,” Jessica said.

Jessica attends the University of Toronto Schools. An affiliate with the University of Toronto, it provides a specialized curriculum for high-achieving students. But really. How does Jessica’s mom, Lai-Laue Zung feel?

“We’re very happy and very proud of her,” Lai-Laue Zung said with a. “It was a very happy moment and of course we hoped that she would do well.”

Parents repeated those same words 72 times before Jessica’s parents, as each speller heard the dreaded bell, meaning elimination. Dressage, durwan, mynherr, pachyderm, ptarmigan.

Inevitably, the majority of kids bowed their heads and stepped off stage. For Lauren Gava, nine, Manitou did her in, explained her dad Gerard Gava.

“She got it confused with manitee, Manitou,” Gerard Gava said. “We’re very proud. She went farther than we thought and we’re very proud of her,” mom Margaret Gava said.

Lauren made it through to the fourth round and being at the bee was experience enough. “It was fun, but I didn’t really think I could get here,” Lauren said with a laugh. “It’s the words. They’re hard.” Lauren has prepared for this bee since last year.

“Last year she won the bee in her class,” Margaret Gava said. “But she was too young to compete. Third graders aren’t allowed in, so this is her first time.”

Jessica Zung will compete at the National Final in April at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau against the 22 other regional winners. In May, she will represent Canada at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC.