Spelling Bee

She misspelled f-r-i-t-t-a-t-a. It almost cost her the spelling bee championship.

Simone Kaplan is not a fan of frittatas, an Italian version of an omelet.

So when she got the word at the 79th Annual Miami Herald Broward County Spelling Bee on Wednesday, she stumbled. “F-r-i-t... May I please start over?” She took another stab, but misplaced the double ts.

She let out a screech. Her mother, Alana, clutched her daughter’s giant stuffed owl and could barely look.

But it wasn’t over for Simone, who sat in her chair on stage and prayed. The 13-year-old from St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Davie ended up winning for the third straight year. Her competitor, 11-year-old Steven Dubin, a first-timer, misspelled his championship word.

The word was vervain, a type of plant.

Simone had another chance. She composed herself. Steven got cataphract (a form of armored heavy cavalry used in ancient times) wrong. Then Simone spelled betta, a long-finned fish, correctly.

Her championship word: Naveta, which according to Merriam Webster, means “a megalithic long barrow of the Balearic islands resembling an inverted boat.” Steven took second. Kyla Truong, of Pine Crest School, took third.

Simone’s hands shot up in the air.

“I am just so happy I get to go back,” she said, wearing her signature bumblebee shoes and socks.

Simone will represent the county at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held from May 26-May 31 in Maryland. Last month, 12-year-old Rodrigo Medinilla won the Miami Herald’s Miami-Dade and Monroe bee and will be going to the Scripps bee, which brings together about 500 top spellers from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and across the globe.

Simone Kaplan, of St. Bonaventure Catholic School, waits for her turn in the final spelling round of the 79th Annual Miami Herald Broward Spelling Bee at Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

The tense moments had the crowd — especially the parents — reeling.

Diana Dubin, Steven’s mom, who competed in the county bee when she was in elementary school, said she couldn’t get over how well the students did.

“It was so close,” she said. “I am so proud of him. He did this all on his own.”

In total, 91 elementary and middle students from 67 schools in Broward competed in the annual bee.

Mark Schermeister, who has been involved in spelling bees for decades, said the county bees “light the fire” in these kids.

“This is the beginning, not the end,” he said. “You learn how to learn.”

Alana Kaplan kisses her daughter, Simone Kaplan, of St. Bonaventure Catholic School, after she won the 79th Annual Miami Herald Broward Spelling Bee at Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Simone spelled the championship word naveta to win the competition. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

The Broward students arrived at the Charles F. Dodge Center in Pembroke Pines early Wednesday. All of them take a written exam with 40 questions — 30 spelling and 10 vocabulary. Every student then spells one word on stage.

They then had a break. Sara Kaufman, who attends American Heritage School in Plantation, used the time to do some last-minute cramming with mom. Sara made it to the finals but misspelled euthanasia in the fourth round.

“I consider myself a linguist and I can’t pronounce half these words,” said her mother Nadine Leonard.

The judges tallied the points, and 23 students made it to the finals. Just after 2 p.m., the spelling began. The kids, some of whom didn’t have legs long enough to reach the floor, patiently sat on stage as each speller walked to the microphone to spell their words, including commissar, escargot and fraulein. The students are in the second to eighth grades.

Matthew Castillo, who made it to the finals but not out of the fifth round after misspelling bildungsroman, said he got flustered. Bildungsroman, by the way, is a literary genre that depicts a character’s growth over the years, usually from youth to adulthood.

“I think I was overconfident,” he said.

Meanwhile, Simone, who studies year round for spelling and can’t wait to go back to the national bee, said she is looking forward to “leaving the house” this weekend, after being cooped up for weeks getting ready for the bee. On the agenda: An outing to Wynwood for dinner and dessert.

Then it’s back to the books.

“There’s going to be lots and lots of studying,” she said.

Carli Teproff grew up in Northeast Miami-Dade and graduated from Florida International University in 2003. She became a full-time reporter for the Miami Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news.