'Just a new hobby': Clara Mervak isn't your average Scripps National Spelling Bee contestant

Mervak, a fifth-grader at Northglade Montessori Magnet School in Kalamazoo, signed up for her first spelling bee class at the start of the school year. Now, she's headed to the national stage.
Clara Mervak Scripps National Spelling Bee
Posted at 2:21 PM, May 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-25 19:16:38-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Some contestants at the Scripps National Spelling Bee have dedicated their life to the dictionary. Clara Mervak is not one of those people.

“I think it's just a new hobby that I picked up," she told FOX 17. "You know, something else to do. Something else to enjoy.”

This hobby of hers only dates back a few months, to the start of her fifth grade school year at Northglade Montessori Magnet School in Kalamazoo.

Clara never really considered it before, but spelling bee prep was offered to students, so she signed up.

“Did you ever thank your teacher for giving you this option? Because look at where it's taken you?" FOX 17 asked.

"Not officially. I think I should," Clara replied.

It's hard to do much better than Clara in her first year as a speller, winning a regional bee to secure a spot on the national stage at the end of this month.

“For at least a whole day after I won, I still could not believe that I did," Clara said.

That core memory was almost a forgotten experience instead.

“In the first round, I think I got the hardest word out of all them. I got escapade. It's spelled E-S-C-A-P-A-D-E. I spelled it right, but the judges said it was wrong. So, then I just stood there for a minute while they were like looking through the books and reviewing to see if it was actually right. I was so relieved when finally they were like, 'Oh, nevermind, you're actually right.'”

Her next escapade takes her to Washington, D.C. for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. There are 231 total students, all ranging from third to eighth grade.

As a fifth grader, Clara falls on the younger side. That's just fuel to the fire.

“It's good motivation for me, but it's also very nerve-wracking because all of these kids have been studying for years," she said.

Clara's study habits look a little different.

“I try and put in 30 to 45 minutes a day," she said. "Not much, but enough so that I can remember some roots and words.”

She added, “I read a book, and apparently (you're) supposed to practice like three to four hours a day. I was not going to do that. I was not going to do that. Just light studying. I'm just excited for the experience.“

Clara understands she has a tall task ahead.

“I think some of those kids are practicing as much as that book that I read, says. I think that's gonna be pretty tough to go up against, but I'm not gonna study three to four hours a day. I do not have the time. I go to school. I eat. I cannot," she joked.

Relatable and remarkable — that's Clara Mervak.

She's just going with the flow, and she's pretty excited about where that flow has taken her.

“I still cannot believe that I'm actually going to Washington, D.C.," she said with a smile on her face.

The 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee begins with preliminaries on Tuesday, May 30. You can tune in live by going to the ION Plus or Bounce XL channels on your streaming devices.

Learn more by clicking this link.

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