, Muskogee, OK

March 30, 2013

Top speller repeats triumph

OSB sixth-grader again headed for national competition

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Richelle Zampella smiled Friday night when she heard the word “mnemonic.”

Her voice rose with excitement as she spelled the word correctly — and she kept smiling when she was declared the winner of the 2013 Eastern Oklahoma Spelling Bee.

Richelle, a sixth-grader at Oklahoma School for the Blind, defeated more than 120 other spellers from across eastern Oklahoma. She now qualifies for the National Spelling Bee later this spring in Washington, D.C.

 This was Richelle’s second year in a row to win the Eastern Oklahoma Bee.

“I feel excited and happy that I get to go again,” she said, clutching a huge, blue trophy. “I look forward to seeing new things, meeting new friends and competing.”

This also is the second year in a row that Nicholas Stark of Howe Middle School placed second in the bee. Beau Barton of Vian Middle School placed third.

“I would not have rather lost to anyone else,” said Nicholas, now a seventh-grader at Howe. “I don’t know why, but I was more nervous at this one. I had studied for it. I was confident. Maybe I was afraid of Richelle.”

It took more than eight rounds before Nicholas and Richelle faced each other again. Then Nicholas stuck an “e” at the end of “fraulein,” putting Richelle on the spot to spell the next two words correctly — “rendezvous” and “mnemonic.”

Richelle said she smiled through that last word “because I knew it.”

“I knew if I knew it I would win,” she said.

Sheila Zampella, Richelle’s mother, said she’s “just ecstatic” about her daughter’s repeat.

“She was just determined to win again,” Zampella said. “She said she wanted to go back to the National Bee.”

Zampella said her daughter practiced spelling through most of the past year.

“She became very familiar with the words,” Zampella said.

She got through nine words in all: lithe, phenomenon, echt, mozzarella, pernicious, surveillance, soliloquy, rendezvous and mnemonic.

OSB Principal Carolyn Sheppard simply said, “Wow.”

“It’s just wonderful and exciting that regardless of what disabilities you have or your lot in life, perseverance pays off,” Sheppard said.

Bee organizer Susan Hoog said the bee promised to be the largest ever, attracting contestants from as far away as Drumright, Atoka, Vinita and Bartlesville.

The master of ceremonies for the evening was Erin Cristy, a reporter and producer for the nightly news magazine “The List,” which is televised locally on KJRH.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or