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This one's for Archer - Spelling Bee champ Sara-Beth intends to make late coach proud

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
The Gleaner’s Children’s Own Spelling Bee 2015 champion, Sara-Beth McPherson (left), and her mother, Andrea McPherson.
The Gleaner’s Children’s Own Spelling Bee 2015 champion, Sara-Beth McPherson.

Thirteen-year-old Sara-Beth McPherson intends to make her late coach, the Reverend Glen Archer, proud, as she confidently gears up to take on the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the United States next week.

"I am confident I will do well. Preparations have been steady and going as planned. At this stage, I am as ready as I will ever be, and I am confident I will do my best. By the time Scripps comes around, I will have it down pat," shared the second-form Holy Childhood High School student.

"I was really hoping Rev Archer would have gone with me to Scripps, but I guess it was God's plan to take him away early, so I guess that's how it goes. I really do miss him being a part of this and I intend to make him proud."

Archer, who had coached students for The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee Championship since 1986, and produced 26 national champions, died on February 15 from kidney failure.

In 1997, Archer took the first Jamaican entrant, Jason James, to Scripps in Washington, DC, where he placed eighth. A year later, he reaped big rewards when Jamaican Jody-Anne Maxwell took the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship title with the winning word 'c-h-i-a-r-o-s-c-u-r-i-s-t'. Since then, Archer took several national spelling bee champions to the top 10 at the Scripps.

The demanding and meticulous spelling coach tutored Sarah-Beth for three years before becoming gravely ill last year, and leaving her in the hands of his protÈgÈ, Hanif Brown - his hand-selected replacement to carry on his legacy.

Barely getting a break after winning The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee in early February, Sara-Beth jumped right into preparations for the Scripps with Coach Brown.

The main focus of preparation had been on both spelling and vocabulary, as a new feature of Scripps requires that participants know both the spelling and meaning of the words.

Gifted with an excellent memory, Sara-Beth has always been very good with languages and words in general.

"I would definitely say things are going very smoothly, and I have my own style in remembering the words, their spelling and meaning, so I am as ready and confident as I will ever be," Sara-Beth told The Gleaner.

The young lady finds it quite easy working with Brown, as she doesn't consider his style much different from Archer's.

"It's very easy to work with him, once you do what is required of you. You just follow his instructions and you are fine," she said.

"Hanif is a very good coach. I think Rev Archer has taught him really well and I think he is a good enough coach for me and many others."

Brown, a former student of Archer's, was Jamaica's 2011 Spelling Bee champion.




Sara-Beth said she was quite proud to be Jamaica's national spelling bee champion and even more proud to represent her country at the international event.

"I feel really excited about representing Jamaica. I also feel really odd and pressured at the same time. But I know I will do well and do my best to make Jamaica proud," said the spelling bee whiz, who is hoping to make a career in accounting.

"It has been hard work. Sometimes it seems like a lot to do, but I know I have to manage and balance schoolwork, the spelling and getting some time to rest."

She continued: "I am very excited that it is finally so near. I am a little bit nervous, but I know I will do my best and doing my best is enough. I am looking forward to my first time to Washington and meeting all the spellers from around the world who will be there."

Sara-Beth will be among 284 spellers from around the world competing for the title at the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship, scheduled for May 24-29.

The on-stage 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.

Sarah-Beth will be accompanied by Coach Brown, her parents, Peter and Andrea McPherson, and members of The Gleaner's Spelling Bee team.

Mom and Dad are both happy for their only child.

"I am happy that she has this opportunity. It is something I knew she could manage and I am glad she is getting the privilege," said Mrs McPherson, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies.

Working with Archer over the years, Mrs McPherson believes Brown is the ideal person to carry on the work of the coach par excellence.

"Hanif has been a wonderful person, an excellent coach. I don't think Rev Archer could have chosen a better person to be his successor. I think he must have seen everything coming and he had all confidence in Hanif," she noted.

Andrea added: "It is a bittersweet moment, getting to this stage knowing it was with the hand of Rev Archer involved and not having him be there with us to see it through. I think it will really hit home when we get to Washington. But I know he will be with us in spirit."