This 8th-grader from Argentina just won the spelling bee for the third year in a row
Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel | March 15, 2023
When Juan Rondeau arrives at home with his first-place trophy Wednesday, he will position it beside two others.
For the third year in a row, the 14-year-old Argentinian native who moved to the U.S. at 8 won the Miami Herald Spelling Bee for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
“It feels good,” he said, smiling and hugging his little brother Nico.
The eighth-grader will now take part in the 96th Scripps National Spelling Bee, a multi-day competition held later this year at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Finals will be broadcast on television June 1.
Juan will face more than 200 spellers from across the country. The ultimate champion will walk away with a cash prize, a medal, Encyclopedia Britannicas and a Scripps Cup, the official trophy. Last year, the winner received $52,500.
“I will be shaking,” his mom chimed in. “I always cry.”
Juan represented Westminster Christian School, a private school at 6855 SW 152nd St. in Palmetto Bay, at the 83rd annual Miami Herald Bee, held at the Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines.
“I started doing different spelling bees in third grade. They’re fun. I’m excited,” he said, adding he joined the Scripps Spelling Bees when he moved to middle school. This will be his last run, as students age out after the eighth grade.
Camila Sanchez-Izquierdo, a seventh-grader at Highpoint Academy, a private school at 12101 SW 34th St., placed second. Masarrat Rashid, an eighth-grader at Mater Brickell Academy, a charter school at 230 SW 17th Road, came in third.
The Miami Herald sponsors two spelling bees every year, one for Miami-Dade and Monroe students and another for Broward students. Students from first to eighth grade at public schools, charter schools, private schools and those home schooled participate.
THE HERALD BEE, AN 83-YEAR-OLD TRADITION
The road to the spelling bee begins with individual competitions at each school. Winners then qualify for the Herald’s Bee and get a word list to practice.
Twenty-six finalists nervously sat on stage Wednesday, flanked on each side by three blue, yellow and red balloon towers. Some dressed up for the occasion: A boy wore navy trousers and a matching tie; a girl wore a tulle puffy dress with tights. Others donned their school uniforms.
Four lost in the first round.
Judie ElAttar, one of the youngest competitors who recently turned 8, lost on the second round, along with three others. She returned to the contest after losing last year in the third round at 7 years old. After misspelling collegiality last March, she vowed to return.
She kept her word, once again representing David Fairchild Elementary School, a public school located at 5757 SW 45th St., but now in second grade. On Wednesday, she proudly sat on stage, swinging her feet, not quite reaching the ground.
She lost on the second round with “impoverish” and bowed out with another pledge: “OK, I’ll come back next year. It was so great seeing you. Best of luck to all my friends!” she said, as some of the audience members pouted and touched their chests.
TENSE 14 ROUNDS
As they jockeyed for the top prize, some students spelled quickly, in rapid-fire. Others took their time, asking judges for the word’s language of origin, part of speech, sentence, definition and more.
Parents, guardians and educators recorded the kids on their phones. They sighed in relief if they survived one more round, and hugged those disqualified who exited the stage crestfallen.
Logan Cox, an 11-year-old in fifth grade at Somerset Academy South Homestead, got the word “pudibund” in round 5.
“I’m sorry, what?” he asked judges, scratching his head.
He lost, waved goodbye and walked over to his mom.
“Would you have spelled that?” he questioned her with a grin, shrugging. “What was it again?”
The Bee went on for 14 rounds.
The finalists cruised by challenging words like “atlatl” — which according to Merriam-Webster means a device for throwing a spear or dart, and “ancien regime” — a system or mode no longer prevailing.
At the end, judges went off the provided word list.
That’s when Juan spelled “ramage,” meaning the boughs or branches of a tree, successfully.
He immediately fist pumped, then celebrated as streamers fell from the ceiling and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams roared from the speakers.