Edna student spells 'saboteur' to become champion

March 20, 2012 at 10 p.m.
Updated March 20, 2012 at 10:21 p.m.

Déjà vu.

Language of origin? French.

Definition? The experience of thinking that a new situation had occurred before.

Use it in a sentence? The audience at the 2012 Regional Spelling Bee had déjà vu, as two veteran spellers stepped to the microphone to fight for the chance to be named the champion.

Pauline Negrete, a 13-year-old at Edna Junior High School, and Andrew Bernhard, a 14-year-old at Our Lady of Victory School, dueled for seven rounds before Pauline pulled away a victory at the Regional Spelling Bee Tuesday night.

Pauline was the regional champion in 2010, too. Andrew won last year's championship.

The middle schoolers went back and forth in what would seem an endless competition between two downright smart students.

Kuchen. Raita. Batik. Infinitesimal. Punctilio. Escargot. Cheka.

Each time, Pauline and Andrew spelled it right, and each time, whispers of amazement swirled through the audience.

In the end, at round 27, Andrew accidentally switched up letters in "caballero." And he knew it immediately.

Pauline was then presented with the championship word - the toughest one of the night for her, she said, and in the most difficult language: French.

If she was nervous, she didn't show it, as she rattled off the spelling of "saboteur."

After two hours and 45 minutes of competition, all of the studying paid off in an instant.

"My principal gave me advice. 'You have to walk up on that stage and be confident in yourself,'" Pauline said. "I listened to it, and it worked."

Pauline said she's spent hours writing down words, reading Dictionary.com and repeating words back to her mom, Maria Negrete.

"She is very disciplined. She's very dedicated," her father, Pablo Negrete said. "Last week, we were on spring break, and she studied hard every day. She even gave up her phone."

For Pauline, the motivation is simple.

"I want to go far in life," she said, adding that she thinks the spelling competitions will help her get into a good college.

After the glamour - the congratulations, the pictures, the giant trophies - of being crowned the best speller in the region wore off, Pauline was quick to praise her friends, principal Demetric Wells, teachers and especially her parents for their support.

"People put in a lot of time to help me. I'm so grateful, and I wouldn't be here without them," she said.

That means buckle up, Pauline's team. Now it's time to study for the Mecca of spelling bees, the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., where Pauline and her parents will go in May.

"Study, study, study," Pauline said. "It doesn't stop here."



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