For Broward champ, spelling runs in the family

Back in 1972, Daryl Olster won his school spelling bee at South Miami’s Ludlam Elementary. He then participated in the countywide competition, but failed to take home a trophy.

On Tuesday, Olster’s 14-year-old son Dylan carried on the family tradition at Broward’s annual spelling bee. And it’s safe to say his father taught him well.

After an hours-long contest that concluded with the correct spelling of “suffragette,” Dylan Olster — an 8th-grader at Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School’s West campus — won the coveted middle school title.

Dylan said that asking the judge for the origin of the championship word (in this case, French) was key to him getting it right.

“Usually French words have ‘ette,’ ” Dylan said.

Dylan also came to the competition armed with some advice from his dad: “Slow down. Enunciate the words. Take your time.”

Dylan’s big reward was a trip for two to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Miami-Dade students will compete for the same prize next week, with both South Florida events sponsored by Burger King Worldwide Inc.

Travel for the winning spellers is provided by American Airlines. The Miami Herald has hosted spelling bees in Miami-Dade and Broward for the past 74 years.

More than 100 student spellers (each already the champion at their school) packed into Davie’s Signature Grand for Tuesday’s Broward competition. Both elementary and middle school grades were represented, although the elementary school winner does not move on to any national competition.

Aidan Veghte, a 5th-grader at Pine Crest School, took the top spot among elementary school students. Time and again, Broward’s younger participants successfully tackled words that would give many grown-ups fits.

Aidan’s winning word: “maunder,” which means to talk in a rambling fashion. Aiden’s victory comes after placing third in last year’s bee.

Last year, Aidan said, “I wasn’t disappointed. I was actually pretty happy that I got third, but I said to myself ‘Next time, I will study harder,’ ”

Aidan offered this advice: “You should always practice, because hard work pays off.”

Throughout the day, the emotions ran high. One young girl flubbed the word “belladonna,” — and was led away by her family in tears. Students fidgeted anxiously while onstage. By the time Dylan finally won, he wore a bright smile, but was also visibly out of breath.

Several students acknowledged that spelling virtuosity sometimes isn’t enough — luck, too, plays a role. Students can have the misfortune of drawing a particularly difficult word, or they can be led astray by the way a certain word is pronounced by the judges.

“It makes you nervous, being up there, thinking that you might spell it wrong, not knowing whether you’ll get an easy word or a hard word,” said Andrew Kolondra, 13, of American Heritage School. “It’s kind of upsetting when you get eliminated, but just to be up there, it’s an honor.”

In an age of computer spell-check programs, Andrew said good spelling still matters. Sometimes, he said, you might have to write something without a computer handy.

“If you’re a bad speller, it reflects badly on you, on your education, on what you’re trying to do in life,” Andrew said.