Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Sara-Beth is prepared, Hanif Brown

Published:Friday | May 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
The Gleaner’s Children’s Own Spelling Bee champion Sara-Beth McPherson being congratulated by her coach and 2011 champion, Hanif Brown.
Well done, my boy! Hanif Brown (left), The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee champion for 2011, gets a hug and a well-deserved pat on the back from his coach, the Reverend Glen Archer.

Although Hanif Brown will not be able to accompany his charge, Sara-Beth McPherson, to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the United States next week, he is confident he has done all he can to prepare her to do her best.

The 17-year-old grade-11 Ardenne High School student is in the middle of sitting his Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, rendering him unable to personally make the trip with Sara-Beth.

However, Roger Allen, who has been instrumental in helping to carry on the Spelling Bee programme, will be there with her. Allen's son, Christian, was The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee 2013 champion.

"I know she will do fine and is in capable hands," Brown told The Gleaner.

"Sara-Beth is prepared. It is just for her now to go and deliver. She has been equipped with the necessary skills, tools, [and] knowledge to go and do her best. It is all up to her now. I am confident I have prepared her well."

He added: "Whatever the result will be next week, I will be pleased with that, as I am confident God's will will be done. I just want her to do herself justice for the amount of work that she has been putting in."

Thirteen-year-old Sara-Beth, who won The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee Championship in February, leaves Jamaica tomorrow to join 284 spellers from around the world competing for the title of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion from May 24-29 in the United States.

The onstage rounds of the competition will take place on May 27 and 28 at the Maryland Ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor in Maryland.

It was only four years ago that Brown, Jamaica's 2011 Spelling Bee champion, was the one preparing to compete at the Scripps. He felt that has made a difference in preparing Sara-Beth to go off.


"Being in the position of the speller, you experience all that tension and anxiety. So that makes you better able, mentally, to advise the speller not just on the spelling aspect, but the psychometrics of it being onstage," he said.

A former student of world-renowned coach the Reverend Glen Archer, who died on February 15 from kidney failure, Brown has been training Sara-Beth since October of last year, taking over from Archer, who had been training her for three years.

Realising that his health was deteriorating and he could no longer continue, Archer had left Sara-Beth in Brown's capable hands.

Archer had coached students for The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee Championship since 1986 and produced 26 national champions.

"He handed over Sara-Beth to me and said, 'Just do your best and do what needs to be done'. I trained her up to the national finals and, to the glory of God, she won," Brown shared.

"It was an awesome feeling when she won, because having to balance that with my school-work, preparing for CSEC, being the captain of Ardenne's football team and other activities, having to balance all that with God as my guide, and having all that hard work pay off, it was a great feeling."

Although other former spellers used to, at times, assist Archer, Brown was the one to stick with him consistently since 2012.

Now in the role of coach, Brown said the style he brings to the Spelling Bee programme could be considered a combination of what he had learnt from Archer and his own techniques.

"It took me a while to get over the fact that Rev is no longer here. He was a mentor, and losing someone that was valuable in your life obviously has an impact. I am a strong child of God and He always knows what He is doing. He knows best in all things," he said.


With university, a potential career in mass media or linguistics, and his life's journey ahead of him, Brown has yet to decide on his role in the future of the Spelling Bee programme.

"At this point, I am weighing my options, so it remains to be seen what will happen going forward. I know persons have been wondering what will happen to the programme, but all I can say at this point is that it remains to be seen," he shared.

"It is something that I have thought about. I still have my future to decide on what I have to do, including university. I am still a student, and so my future is not just about Spelling Bee only, but my own career path - the path that my life will take."

Stating that it was normally at the beginning of the summer holidays that persons would call to sign up for coaching, Brown said he would be receptive to whoever may call.