California Girl Spells Better than Spelling Bee Judges

What do you do if you're in a spelling bee, you spell a word correctly, but the judges claim you spelled it wrong?

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What do you do if you’re in a spelling bee, you spell a word correctly, and the judges claim you spelled it wrong anyway?

“B-r-a-i-l-l-e” — that’s how 12-year-old Sierra Shoemaker of Indianola, Calif., spelled the word referring to the written language designed for those unable to see, formed by patterns of raised dots and read with your fingertips. The sixth-grader was competing in the Selma Unified School District’s spelling bee held at Garfield Elementary School last Friday, March 8.

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But “B-r-a-i-l-e” is how the judges’ sheet and “word master” claimed it was spelled — inaccurately, of course — leading to Shoemaker’s startling disqualification.

“I didn’t want to say anything because, you know, if the word master tells you you’ve got a word wrong, you don’t really argue with him,” said Shoemaker, speaking to KMPH. “So I was shocked … I looked around at the audience, half of them were like looking at each other, murmuring.”

Shoemaker was doing well enough that even then, she took home the second place trophy, but realizing she could have won the competition outright and determined to go on to the Fresno County Spelling Bee, she pushed back.

Although the county originally denied her appeal, fortunately the Selma School District dug in its heels on her behalf, culminating in an exception allowing the district to submit three names to the county-wide competition instead of the usual two. Shoemaker thus gets to represent her school district alongside two others at the upcoming county spelling competition on March 21.

And if she wins Fresno? She’ll go on to represent the county in the California State Spelling Championships later this year.

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