Last year, Jacob Williamson stood out to viewers of the televised Scripps National Spelling Bee for his intoxicating exhilaration — and sudden exit in round 10 after confidently misspelling “kabaragoya.”
“I know it!” he said.
But it was not to Bee.
“I enjoyed the recognition while it was around but everything went back to normal eventually and I’m fine with that,” he said.
Because Williamson is 16 this year, he’s no longer eligible to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. He recently gave coaching a try, instructing two local children. But they appeared to be unprepared for the grueling regimen that it takes to go far, he said.
“We got beat pretty bad at regionals. They didn’t seem all that interested in it, to be honest,” Williamson said. “They got to be wanting to study and prepare on their own without me. They didn't seem to be willing enough.”
In Williamson’s final year of eligibility, he studied full time over his spring break — about eight hours per day.
“I was going through the entire Webster dictionary cover to cover. I did that twice,” he said. “With enough preparation, anyone can go far,” Williamson said.
Making it to the top takes time, effort and dedication. For beginning spellers, he advises going to SpellingBee.com and study the round three list. The site provides word clubs for regional winners, he said.
“No matter how low your odds are, you should believe that you can do your best,” Williamson said.
It’s also important to learn the rules of each language. That’s why asking for the origin is so common.
“Each individual language has its own rules, you know spellers ask the language of origin on stage,” Williamson said. “One of the most important things for a speller to do is to learn the rules and the word roots.”
Though his first experience as a coach came with challenges, Williamson said he isn’t giving up.
“I’m going to try again but I’m only going to get with someone if they’re committed enough to study some on their own,” Williamson said, “And not totally rely on me for their success.”
While viewers will miss out on Williamson’s on-stage energy, he will be attending the Bee as a fan. Many of his friends still compete.
Williamson is now weighing his future, which is as bright as he is. Last month, he passed the test to enter MENSA International, the society for people with a high IQ.
Williamson, who is homeschooled, was recently accepted to online high schools by Stanford and George Washington University. He’s weighing each program’s strengths to make a decision.
“I like both for different reasons,” he said. “After that, off to college.”
The Bee preliminaries begin May 27 (ESPN3, 8 a.m. ET). The stakes raise on May 28 with the semifinals (ESPN2, 10 a.m. ET) and finals (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Follow all the Bee action on Twitter at @ScrippsBee.
Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk.