Homeschool student Luke Thornburgh out-spelled 106 other middle school students Thursday night to snatch his second Loudoun County Regional Spelling Bee championship.
Luke, a seventh-grader from Purcellville, correctly spelled the word “debenture” to secure his win, beating Belmont Ridge Middle School student Lilya Petrosyan, who misspelled “Beethovenian.”
The 31st annual regional spelling bee was held at Stone Bridge High School. The auditorium full of friends, family and teachers of the young spellers sat silent as the contestants carefully pronounced and spelled each word.
The spellers each had their own technique as they mulled over their words. Some wrote the word out with their fingers on their palm or on the back of their nametag, and others stared up as if to visualize the word on the ceiling. And many of the students asked the myriad of allowed questions about each word, such as its origin, its definition and its alternative pronunciations.
Even with their tricks to determine the correct spelling, all but four spellers were eliminated by Round 4. Kelsey Sheridan of Sterling Middle School and Omkar Bhalerao of Hutchinson Farm Elementary School joined Luke and Lilya in the next two rounds.
With just four contestants on stage, and the pressure mounting, the audience grew more vocal. They sighed as all four incorrectly spelled their words, and later gasped as Luke correctly spelled the tricky word “vargueno,” which is a wooden cabinet. By Round 6, only Luke and Lilya were left in the running.
The two went almost as many rounds as the other contestants combined on their own. For three rounds both misspelled their words, words including biangulate, geitonogamy and binturong.
At one point, Luke interrupted the silence to ask Woodgrove High School Principal William “Sam” Shipp, who moderated the bee, “Are there ever co-champions in this?”
No, Shipp answered to audience laughter.
But minutes later, Luke was happy to not be sharing the title.
In the next round, Lilya misspelled “Beethovenian,” and Luke correctly spelled “abbatial.” At that, a woman who helped moderate the event spoke the intimidating words to Luke, “If you spell this word correctly you will be our champion.”
As Luke mulled over his final word, “debenture,” he looked at the ceiling, squinted his eyes in thought and tapped his hands on his jeans. He asked the usual series of questions: the words origin (Latin), the definition (a long-term bond issued by a company) and whether there are any alternative pronunciations (no).
The word was one of the easiest he received throughout the three-and-a-half-hour competition, but Luke’s chin dropped in pleasant surprise when the moderator announced he was—once again—the regional bee champion.
In an interview Friday, Luke, the oldest of six children, said he has spent the past year reading through the unabridged version of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary that he won as a prize at last year’s regional bee win. He also keeps a notebook full of usual words that he frequently goes over, and he happens to be studying Latin in school, which has come in handy.
Luke’s parents, Allen and Diana Thornburgh, said, before the 2012 regional competition, they were just hoping their son would make it past the first round. “When he won it, we were really excited,” Diana said. “He got excited about studying and getting ready for this year’s bee.”
Luke’s spelling missed the cut to carry him to the semi-finals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, last year. As he prepares for this year’s national bee May 28-30, Luke said he will continue reading through his 4-inch-thick, 2,662-page Webster’s Dictionary, which he received a second copy of with his latest bee championship.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with this one,” Luke said with a laugh. “Maybe sell it or use it as a bookend.”
When Luke won the title last year, he became the fourth homeschool student to win the Loudoun County Regional Spelling Bee. He isn’t the first homeschool student to win back-to-back championships, either. In 2008 and 2009, homeschool student Santos DeBarros won the regional bees.