Chaunte r-e-a-d-y for Scripps - The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee champion in Washington for big show
Tomorrow, Chaunte Blackwood, The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee champion, will take on 284 other spellers in the preliminaries of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The Ardenne High first-former, who left for Washington, DC, last Saturday, admitted that she was excited and a tad nervous.
"I think I've prepared as best as I could. I'm just going to go there and do my best," Chaunte told The Gleaner.
"There are only 73 spellers that are repeating this year, so the vast majority are going there for the first time like myself. And out of that vast majority, only the best will make it to the top. So I'm just hoping that I'm one of the best."
Her coach, Hanif Brown, a former national champion who competed at Scripps in 2011, was equally cool.
"She has worked hard, she has made a lot of sacrifices, and Jamaica will only see the result, but the important thing for Chaunte to take from this is that whatever it is you do in life, there are going to be challenges," said Brown, a sixth-former at Ardenne who took over coaching after the 2015 death of legendary award-winning coach the Reverend Glen Archer.
"However well it is that she does, I will be proud of her."
ALWAYS A PASSION
Chaunte has been involved in Spelling Bee since she was in grade one, exhausting the local Spelling Bee book before age 10.
"Spelling has always been a part of me, so when I moved to high school, it wasn't really managing the spelling that was my problem, it was getting used to a new environment," she said.
"But I think it's helped me to balance my time well."
Chaunte was accompanied by her mother, Trecia Blackwood; spelling bee programme director Roger Allen; long-time spelling coach Dr Clive Lai; and Nordia Craig, The Gleaner's manager, business development and marketing.
Brown will join them tomorrow.
In preparing for Scripps, training took place every Saturday, but there aren't set days and times within the week. That's determined by Brown, who believes she is like other spellers in one major way: she has a burning desire to win.
"After a couple of training sessions, they realise, 'You know, I really can do this'. Then they start to go for the kill. They get competitive in training," he said.
NOT AN EASY TASK
Noting it is the Lord's will that he help mould young lives, Brown accepts that it's not easy as he has to balance school and his own life.
His objective is not to make a speller into a champion, "but to help them to be the best they can be".
"Not every speller who comes into Spelling Bee will be a champion, but they are champions in their own right. When they come into the programme, we set different goals for each of them, and their objective is to accomplish that goal," he said.
It's not all nail-biting competition, though. The spellers do have some fun time scheduled. For Chaunte, her perfect pastime involves animals.
"I really like animals, so going to a zoo overseas will be like nirvana for me," she said with a laugh.
As it relates to winning Scripps, Jamaicans can't wait to hear her roar.