The Herald Bulletin

May 29, 2013

Joe Kirkpatrick spells way to Washington, DC

Eighth-grader heads to national bee

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The third time may be the charm.

Joe Kirkpatrick is in Washington, D.C. , this week to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It’s the third time he’s advanced to the national level. At age 14, it’s also his last opportunity to compete.

“We’re driving out, the whole family’s going,” said Joe. That includes his dad Shane, mom Andrea, Joe’s twin sister Elli, and younger sister Meghan, 11.

Joe is an eighth grader at Highland Middle School in Anderson. He went to the national competition in 2010 and 2011. There was no regional competition in 2012. This year, Joe advanced from The Herald Bulletin-sponsored regional with the winning word “legislation.”

“Experience always helps,” said Joe.  “I’m one of the people who’s been there the most.” He said there are about 20 spellers who have been back three times to the national competition.  The contest, however, is not exactly getting any easier.

“It’s growing. The last time I was there, it was like 274,” said Joe. This time around, there’s a total of 281 spellers from all 50 states, the youngest is just 8 years old.  Joe said the rules have changed, too. “They’ve added a vocabulary part. They’ve made the competition harder.”

A voracious reader

Joe’s hedging his bets, studying the lists that Scripps makes available. During downtime at school, he said, “I write the ones I missed over and over.”

Joe has learned to pay attention to etymology, having noticed that there are different patterns in words based on the languages from which they derive, especially Latin and Greek.  He said parts of speech can also be helpful.

“They can take a simplish word and tack on prefixes and suffixes,” said Joe. “They’ll never give you a noun if they can make it an adjective.”

“There’s people who obsessively read the dictionary,” said Joe. He’s not one of them.  He has plenty of other interests with which he’s occupied.

“I play the tenor sax,” said Joe. “I like working with technology.” He just finished serving as sound technician for the Highland Middle School performance of “Little Mermaid.” His favorite subject is history. Not surprisingly, Joe is a voracious reader, something that seems to run in the family.

 “They were read to from a very early age,” said Andrea, who is the preschool director for St. John’s Early Literacy program.

As a result, it was likely to be a pretty quiet trip in the family car. That’s because the family likes to read so much, the kids tend to bury their noses in their books while en route.  Once in D.C., however, it’s a whirlwind of activities as Joe heads into the competition.

“As you’re spelling, there’s three or four people crouched right in front of you — furious paparazzi,” said Joe.

The entire family was looking forward to checking out Washington’s highlights, including the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials as well as some of the original documents from our country’s founding on display at the National Archives.

“I think it’s great. I’m glad the newspaper sponsored it,” said Shane, professor of biblical studies at Anderson University. “It provides such a neat opportunity to go to D.C.”

“I’m excited,” said Elli.  She accompanied Joe and her dad on a prior trip when they enjoyed the spy museum and the museum of crime and punishment.

On the way back the family is planning to make a stop in Princeton where Joe’s parents lived at one time. After that, everyone’s looking forward to Hershey, Pa.

“Chocolate!” said Elli.

Upon their return, no one’s missing a beat. There will be one day of school left before it’s time for a busy summer of church camp, helping with Bible school, piano lessons, physical education classes, and Bible Quiz nationals in Rochester, N.Y.

Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.