Spelling bee buzzes back to Malheur County

NYSSA — Area schools are abuzz as the seventh annual Malheur County Spelling Bee nears. 

Matt Murray, Nyssa Elementary School principal, said the bee is widely recognized by students, spellers and educators as the premier academic event in the county.

The elementary school will host the competition at 809 Bower Ave on Thursday, March 16. Organizers expect around 100 first- through eighth-grade students from almost all of the more than 20 schools in the county. 

Free and open to the public, Murray said in addition to the spellers, the school expects another 200 spectators, from parents to student chaperones. Additionally, Murray said the event will be streamed on the school’s website, at 

The event, which kicks off just after 7 a.m. with a check-in breakfast and a welcoming ceremony, will conclude with a championship round at about 11 a.m. and an award ceremony and lunch at noon.

Murray said last year’s top speller, Nyssa’s Ava Anderson, a seventh-grader, will defend her championship.  He said that in the past organizers sent the top speller to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., but this year there will be a $500 grand prize for the champion.  

Murray said the spelling bee is a rare opportunity for high-performing students in Malheur County to compete academically. 

“(The Spelling Bee) gives the county an incredibly rare opportunity to all county schools to meet together, with their students, in the name of learning,” according to an email from Emily Olson, an event organizer and fifth-grade teacher. 

Leading up to the event, Murray said students spend several hours a week preparing. Those long weeks begin in early February when students get a list of words for their respective grade levels. 

From there, Olson said, students from each school vie for one slot in their grade to compete at the county spelling bee in March through a “very realistic” but mock spelling bee at each participating school. 

“Only one winner prevails and represents their school for that grade level in the county bee,” Olson said. 

Nearly a decade old, the event came to be when Murray saw what Olson characterized as a “vacuum of academic-focused competition that needed to be filled.” 

Murray said various community organizations, including the Malheur County Education Service District, sponsor the event. Murray said the school is grateful for the support from the participating schools around the county. 

Olson said the community competition is another way to reach students. 

“This type of competition,” Olson said, “can speak to even more students than just a focus on athletics.”

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