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It is not the will to win but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference.”

With the National Round of the Spelling Bee around the corner, pulses race, hearts pump and the preparation of our young and ambitious spellers reaches its zenith. The people who were part of the exciting Bee tell us what they think it takes to be a winner.

Sameer Ahmed of the Generation’s School describes his state as ‘euphoric” on making it to the Nationals due to be held on the first of November 2011. He thinks his edge has been the fact that he has the rich experience of participating in the Spelling Bee for the last three years. “I made it to the Nationals in my first try — I was in the 12-14 age category at that time.”

When asked what stopped him from becoming the national champion then, he attributes it to a bad stroke of luck. “The day I returned from qualifying at the Regionals, I got chicken pox. Just a day before the National Round, the doctor declared me fit to compete.” His illness took a toll and he was unable to bag the National Champion title.

For the imminent 2011 championship, Sameer exudes confidence. “I’ll give full credit to my mother and teachers for actively supporting me.” Sameer shares that his mother goes as far as to make a timetable for him so that he is able to balance his O-Level preparation as well as his Spelling Bee practice.

Sameer agrees that winning at the Bee requires lady luck smiling on you. “But luck won’t come to you if you don’t put in the hard work,” he says with the sagacity of a person much older than his years.

Faizan Farrukh from the City School who will be going into the Nationals from Karachi in the 12-14 age group, believes that his team was the backbone of his victory. “We spent a lot of time together practising in school hours. We were allowed to skip a few classes everyday and we developed a fine rapport with each other.” Their team of three quizzed each other constantly and searched the web for effective spelling lists.

Faizan believes that if you want to be a winner you have to go the extra mile, “We read newspapers such as Dawn, and magazines like Reader’s Digest. You can’t just depend on the prescribed spelling list.”

Faizan believes that he was one of the three students chosen to represent his school because he was the top student in English of his class and an avid reader. “To win a contest like Spelling Bee, it is important to be deeply involved with books and have a command over the English language.”

Asfandyar Khan of the Head Start School has made it to the Nationals in the 9-11 category and he has been devoting two hours every day since the last two months for the Bee preparation. Now that he has made it to the Nationals, he hasn’t relaxed. On the contrary, he has stepped up his efforts and devotes three to four hours daily going through his word list. “But it is very important to take breaks when you practise and try to make the training as fun as possible,” he is quick to add.

Asfandyar gives kudos to his parents for giving him the time and emotional support, despite their busy schedules to make him reach where he proudly stands today.

Angela Hasan, who has been a teacher for 37 years and was the pronouncer at the Hyderabad rounds, is all praise for the children who participated. “It was a real eye-opener for me to see these kids belonging to schools in interior Sindh being perfectly acquainted with so many words and their meanings. There were times when my tongue would start to roll pronouncing all those words but those kids would be infallible.”

She confesses that she doesn’t know what more the participants could have done. “According to me, making it to the District and National Rounds means a lot. These kids slog for months and learn so many words but at the end of the day, it boils down to eight to 10 words that they are asked which decides their fate.”

Angela shares what positive sportsman spirit the children showed. “The support their parents gave them was also heartening.

They would be more nervous than the children. There would be full-fledged arguments also but it is important to remember that it is easy for a winner to come out smiling but when a loser smiles; he’s the true winner,” finishes Angela.

Angela also discusses how important it is for children to be familiar with a variety of accents. “I have seen teams get very puzzled when faced with a pronouncer having a heavy British, American or Australian accent.”

Being witness to the meticulous organisation and dedication backstage, which goes into making the Bee possible, Angela lauds the organisers. “Sometimes, the team and volunteers go on without sleep, driven by sheer passion, because they look upon the Bee as their baby.”

Asma Inayat, Bee Conductor and Senior Assistant Manager, reminisces about the six years over which the Dawn Spelling Bee has evolved. While talking about what the essence of the Bee is to her, she gives an example of meeting a former Spelling Bee participant whom she bumped into this year, “That participant — Mehlum — is now pursuing photography as a profession and he talked at length with me about how he remembers learning the art of spelling through a fun and interactive contest which taught him life lessons beyond the boundaries of the classroom. He told me how working in a team helped him learn the skill of delegating and dividing work.”

Asma sums it up aptly by saying that the true winners and champions of the Bee are participants who take back at least one thing from the contest and learn to do whatever they do in life passionately and with FUN. “Winning and losing is not the essence of the Bee… Learning in a fun environment is what we believe in and strive for.”