Mateen Sharif’s first major bee paves the road to nationals
For Mateen Sharif, victory is spelled p-e-c-u-n-i-a-r-y.
That’s the word that cinched victory for the Guilderland middle schooler in this years’ Capital Region Spelling Bee (it’s an adjective used to describe something related to money, by the way). The sixth grader and newcomer to the spelling bee scene surprised some with his rise to the top of the pack, but his mother, Mary Derwesh, was not one of them.
He’s always been a great speller, pre-school through elementary school, she said. `In grade 5, one day he came home and said, ‘I’m joining the spelling bee.’`
From there, Sharif assimilated with a startling quickness the hundreds and hundreds of words serious bee competitors must know. He clearly has a mind for language and is learning both Arabic and Spanish, and those skills will be further put to the test when he travels to Washington, D.C. at the end of May to represent the Capital District in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the final rounds of which are broadcast on ESPN.
`I feel pretty good about the win, but I’m kind of nervous about the national because I don’t know how many words I have to study,` Sharif said. `I feel pretty good just being able to go to the National Spelling Bee, so that’s a good thing.`
Outside of his academic life, Sharif studies Taekwondo.
Sharif was the last student standing out of 100 kids grades four through eight from all over the Capital District Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady. Just getting to that point is an accomplishment in itself.
Guilderland had a strong showing overall in the show, with all four of its competitors making it to the top 12. The Middle School has an expanding `Spelling Boot Camp` program that’s run by Enrichment Program Coordinator Deb Escobar. This was the first year it was open to anyone who wanted to participate, and three of the regional contestants who won spots through the school’s bee were part of the weekly camp.
The dark horse contestant was Sharif. He started studying with the camp after his win and learned the regional material in a matter of weeks.
`He worked super hard, because he had a little catching up to do,` said Escobar. `He’s very goal oriented, and he works terribly, terribly hard. He has very high expectations…it’s wonderful to see that rewarded.`
Making it to the final round is a reward of its own, and a challenge. The bee involves hours of competition in which the number of contestants is gradually pared down. Five students made it to the final round, including Bethlehem Central eighth grader Noah Pappas.
Pappas also ascended to the final round in the 2010 competition. Though he clearly has an affinity for language, he doesn’t spend much time poring over flashcards or curled up with a dictionary.
`He was just one of those kids who basically taught himself to read at three. Words always came pretty naturally to him,` said Darcy Pappas, Noah’s mother. `He sees a word and he knows it.`
Pappas also is a member of his school’s bowling and volleyball teams. He was disqualified on the word `felicitous.`
Sharif, Pappas and the three other finalists will appear at The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza on Friday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m., to share their experiences and also to wish Sharif good luck in Washington.
Sharif’s trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee will be paid for. He also won a laptop computer, a $300 in U.S. savings bonds, Webster’s dictionary and Amazon.com gift card and a subscription to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
The other finalists were Paul Capuano, who is home schooled; Bill Dong, of Guilderland Central School District; and Brandon Brijall, of the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School.“