State spelling champion is headed for the queen of all bees

Jacob Elser studies at home in preparation to represent Arkansas at the Scripps National Spelling Bee June 1-2 in Washington D.C. He hits the spelling books about an hour daily and more on the weekends.
Jacob Elser studies at home in preparation to represent Arkansas at the Scripps National Spelling Bee June 1-2 in Washington D.C. He hits the spelling books about an hour daily and more on the weekends.

Fourteen-year-old Jacob Elser is Arkansas’ top speller.
And he can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than a minute.
His spelling career started in first grade. The cube only since last Christmas.
“When you have two weeks off and don’t know what to do, you look for things. You can only watch TV for so long,” he said. “It was just fun.”
His first-grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Fayetteville started him down the path to spelling perfection. She put him on a challenge list for spelling. After that he was always at least a year ahead in his spelling words.
Without his teacher’s interest in his abilities, he said he might not be on the same path.
“Catholic school was a really good environment. The teachers were really good and they cared about the kids. They were very supportive of us.”
He started competing in spelling bees in third grade. He won his school bees from fourth to seventh grades. He went on to win the Washington County spelling bee for the first time in the fifth grade in 2008.
The past two years, he placed second at the county competition. He thought his shot at winning state might be out of reach.
But on March 19 he won the Arkansas State Spelling Bee at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His winning word was “upsilon,” the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet.
The trip to the national spelling bee is bittersweet for Elser, who is in eighth grade at Woodland Junior High in Fayetteville.
“I really like spelling bees, and it’s kind of tough because eighth grade is the last year. It is also motivation for me, because I can’t come back,” he said.
That fact also makes him more ready to do his best to represent his state.
“At first in the fourth and fifth grade, I was pretty nervous. After awhile, you get used to it and you get over it,” he said.
His previous years of preparation help, learning thousands of words. He is also studying about an hour daily and more on the weekends.
He’s focusing right now on 60 pages of prefixes, root words and suffixes. It will help him root out how a word is put together when he doesn’t recognize it from his study or experience. His parents quiz him on words also.
The national bee starts with a written test. The top 50 go on from there to rounds two and three.
Father John Antony, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville, sends Elser’s father, Mark, a word of the day in a sentence to see if Elser can spell it.
“It’s cool,” he said. “You don’t always get recognized by a priest for something you do outside of church. He says he was a good speller when he was a kid, so now he can help me.”
Elser regularly serves Mass at St. Joseph and is preparing for confirmation next year.
His faith is important to him, and it doesn’t hurt to have a priest in the family to look up to. His uncle, Father Bill Elser, is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hot Springs Village.
His favorite Bible verse is Psalm 34:1 (“I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth”). He found it after winning the Washington County Spelling Bee in round 34 with the word “psalm.” He was also speller no. 34.
“It’s my favorite Bible verse now,” he said. “It helps me when I’m competing because I’m doing it for the glory of God.”
Soon it will be time to pack up the family and head out for his last spelling bee. And it’s the queen of all bees — the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. Spellers from around the United States and the world come to compete, and it will be televised on ESPN June 1-2.
His parents Janell and Mark and younger sister Caroline will go with him. Caroline prays for him during competitions.

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