CUMBERLAND — According to Merriam-Webster, the word “impressive” can mean “having the power to excite attention, awe or admiration.” And that word can be used in a sentence to describe an eighth-grader from Gray who won the Maine State Spelling Bee on March 25th and is now heading to nationals.
Twelve-year-old Naomi Zarin, who lives in Gray and attends the Friends School of Portland in Cumberland, out-spelled other students from around the state at the competition held on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus last Saturday.
Zarin, who made it through 42 rounds to be crowned this year’s state champion, described the moment that she won in an interview this week at her school.
“It was really crazy,” Zarin said, “There were the three judges, and then one of them kind of smiled, and I was like, ‘wait, did I get that right?’ Because I had never heard the word before.”
That winning word was C-O-P-A-L, a type of resin from various tropical trees.
“The head of school, Jenny, actually brought me some copal after she found out it was my winning word,” said Zarin, the daughter of Dan and Audra Zarin.
Staff and students at the Friends School seemed rightfully proud of Zarin’s accomplishment. While she was having her photograph taken in the school lobby, one younger student asked her which words she spelled correctly during the competition. She joked that she wasn’t going to list 42 words right then and there.
“We’re all proud of Naomi, not just because of her considerable spelling powers, but also because of her persistence and obvious joy in the spelling bee arena over the last four years,” said Jenny Rowe, head of school.
Zarin finished second in the state bee last year. She has competed in the Cumberland County Bee since fifth grade, but her interest in spelling goes back a long way.
“When I was 4 years old, I would go to the third- and fourth grade room and take spelling tests with them,” she said. “I don’t know if I got my results, or if I just liked doing it.”
Liking something is one thing, but excelling at it is another, and Zarin has worked hard to become the speller she is today with some help along the way.
“On the Scripps website they have a study tool, so I use that a lot,” she said of her about her bee preparation. “My parents quiz me. My mom leaves me spelling words in my lunch box, and I read a lot.”
Her favorite books are the Harry Potter series, which involves a different type of spelling (she says she would be a Ravenclaw). She also likes the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and her favorite subjects in school are writing and math.
As far as tips for spelling bee success, Zarin explained that asking for an alternate pronunciation of the winning word copal helped her figure out that the second vowel was an “a.”
“I try to ask at least one question every time. It’s really helpful, especially alternate pronunciations,” she said.
While most people continue to be thankful for spell-check, Zarin is preparing to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee starting in late May. The competition takes place just outside of Washington, D.C., in National Harbor, Maryland.
“I don’t know if I’ll make it to the finals, and I definitely don’t think I’ll win,” she said with a smile. “Because I’m not one of those people who spell their whole lives and don’t do anything else. I like to have a balance of things.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Naomi Zarin, 12, of Gray, won the Maine State Spelling Bee on Mar. 25 at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. She attends the Friends School of Portland, located in Cumberland.