Ever since 12-year-old Tamya Matthews of Clinton saw the movie “Akeelah and the Bee,” a 2006 movie about a girl who competes in a national spelling bee competition, she has dreamed of doing the same.
After winning the Prince George’s County Spelling Bee on Friday by correctly spelling the winning word, “prosciutto,” Tamya’s dream is coming true. The seventh-grader from Mt. Calvary Catholic School in Forestville will represent Prince George’s in the Scripps National Spelling Bee held May 25-31 at National Harbor.
“I feel pretty amazing. I never thought that I would win,” Tamya said.
The county spelling bee, presented by The Gazette-Star along with community sponsors, is held annually at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park and serves as a qualifier for the national competition. Public, private and homeschool middle school students in Prince George’s County are eligible after winning their school or homeschool cooperative spelling bees.
Darcy Tomko, principal of Mt. Calvary Catholic School, said Tamya is a phenomenal student, dedicated to her studies and extracurricular activities.
“She’s an all-around, very good student, and I am just very proud,” Tomko said.
Tamya’s mother, Monica Garvin, said her daughter, who has a 4.0 GPA, has always been interested in learning, especially in spelling.
“I am just so proud of her and so happy. She’s always had this dream of going to the Scripps Spelling Bee,” Garvin said.
The spelling bee started with 32 students, but each round saw some eliminations until the ninth round, when only Tamya and runner-up Shawn Muoneke, 14, of Upper Marlboro remained.
Tamya passed onto the 10th round by spelling the word “misogynist” after telling judges, “I hope I get this word right or my mom’s going to hate me.”
“That was a word we kept on practicing over and over and over again, and I kept on getting it wrong. So I was just really hoping I would get it right this time, and I fortunately did,” Tamya explained.
Tamya and Shawn continued to compete for five more rounds. Shawn spelled words like “zeitgeber” and “mihrab,” but misspelled “doaune”
“I knew Arabic, German, Japanese, Slavic words would be the hardest, so I studied those words harder than the other words,” Shawn said.
Last year, Shawn, an eighth-grader at The Academy of St. Matthias the Apostle in Lanham, came in third place in the spelling bee.
Tamya credited her Russian teacher for helping her be able to spell “balalaika” and her German teacher for “anschluss.”
Tamya said she practiced 10 hours a week on average, in school, at home and wherever else she could.
“I studied in homeroom, I studied in class. My teachers had to tell me to put my words away, actually,” Tamya said.
In addition to expense-paid travel and stay in National Harbor, Tamya also won a $100 savings bond; a Merriam-Webster Dictionary; a $500 shopping spree, courtesy The Mall at Prince Georges; an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and gift cards from a variety of sponsors.