Eighth-grader Madison Schulze has spelled her way to three consecutive wins during the past three years at Johnstown's Adams Middle School.
The 14-year-old advanced to the state competition this year, participating in the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee on the campus of Ohio University in Athens on March 22.
Madison said she started participating in classroom spelling bees as early as first grade.
"I did them with my classmates," she said. "I've always been competitive, even as a first-grader."
Madison said she likes studying for the contest, but she doesn't actually like the event.
"I'm competitive but don't like competing," she said. "I cram the night before. I pray every round. This year was the worst. Since I won in the sixth and seventh grades, you can't get up there and lose. People always expect me to be that spelling-bee girl."
She said she prefers to just be known as Maddie.
Knowing her success with spelling bees, Madison said, her classmates typically ask her for help.
"They say, 'Hey, what's this word?' or 'How do you spell this?' I usually tell them to find a dictionary," she said.
Madison said she enjoys learning new words, and she uses a computer program to help quiz herself.
"I usually just have a big word list called Big IQ bee," she said. "I go through a list. I form words in my head. Whatever sounds right is pretty good. I read a lot."
Since first grade, Madison said, she has participated in about 14 spelling bees.
"I like English a lot," she said. "I like learning new words, vocabulary and math and science. My English teacher started an online vocabulary thing. It's a lesson every two weeks that we're supposed to do. I've been getting a lesson done every other day."
She also participates in track, cross country, basketball and 4-H.
Madison said her competitive nature comes from her father, Don, who enjoys quizzing her for contests. She said he likes a challenge, even in board games.
"The other day we played Stratego, and he got mad when he lost," she said. "You can't play Monopoly against him."
Her mother, Amy, said her daughter's success is fabulous.
"She has the gift of spelling," she said.
In addition to spelling words, the spelling contest now requires students to provide definitions.
"A word from last year was chickabiddy, a term of endearment," Madison said.
"Her dad and I are on pins and needles every round," Amy Schulze said.
"I am, too," Madison said.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is touted as the nation's largest and longest-running educational promotion, administered on a nonprofit basis by The E.W. Scripps Co. and local spelling-bee sponsors in the United States. Its purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage to help them throughout their lives.
The headquarters in Cincinnati coordinates the national finals, produces word lists and study materials, works with local spelling-bee sponsors and enrolls schools. The Scripps National Spelling Bee will be held near Washington, D.C., during Bee Week: May 25-31.