News by Topic

Click on a topic below to see the latest headline

Customize "My Headlines" by Topic

Choose the topics of most interest to you to follow under "My Headlines".


Sign up for newsletters, news feeds, social media and other news sources.

Resources for News Media

Are you a reporter working on a story? Here's where you find help from Duke.

Spelling Bee Pronouncer a High-Stakes Job

Spelling Bee Pronouncer a High-Stakes Job

Duke's Sam Miglarese passes the microphone after three years in the hot seat

print |
Sam Miglarese, far right, director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, serves as the pronouncer during the Duke Regional Spelling Bee, which is sponsored by Duke's Office of Durham and Regional Affairs. The event took place Saturday in Page Auditorium. Photo by Duke University Photography.

Durham, NC - Twenty-five rounds. More than 300 words. Sixty-one students from Durham and Orange counties.

After about four hours of providing definitions, languages of origin and alternative pronunciations, pronouncer Sam Miglarese stared up at fifth-grader Bettie Closs, who was hopping up and down on the stage in Page Auditorium.

"We have a winner!" announced Miglarese, director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership.

Bettie was named champion of the Duke-sponsored Scripps Regional Spelling Bee Saturday after correctly spelling, "impunity."

The crowning of the champion marked the end of Miglarese's three-year stint as pronouncer, a high-stress spelling bee role in which a simple mispronunciation or heavy-handed guidance can throw off the entire competition. Miglarese became pronouncer after Judith Ruderman, a visiting professor in the Duke English department and former vice provost who served in the role for two years. Duke's Office of Durham and Regional Affairs will soon start its search for a 2015 pronouncer.

"My favorite part is being an active participant," Miglarese said. "I love words. All my life, reading has been a very active part of my weekly routine and I would say that knowing, learning new words, experiencing the power of words I think sort of motivated me even more to accept the challenge that was offered."

He said his first spelling bee was most challenging, but over the years, his preparation methods have evolved. He receives the list of Scripps regional bee words well in advance, and without disturbing his cubicle mates, he goes through the list, sometimes using the Merriam-Webster dictionary website to figure out the best pronunciations.

Sixty-one students competed in this year's Regional Spelling Bee.

"It was clear to me that these youngsters put in so much time and effort and their parents are so emotionally connected to their child that I didn't want to be the reason why a child misspelled a word," he said.

This year, Scripps sent him the championship list of words only 72 hours before the start of the bee.

On Saturday, parents filled the auditorium, tensing when their young competitors spelled words such as "infinitesimal" and "douane," a custom house in France. The 61 students seated on the stage were the top spellers at their schools. They were going head-to-head for the grand prize, an all-expenses-paid trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. this May.

At the start of the competition, Miglarese patiently provided more information to spellers calculating their next move at the microphone.

What's the language of origin of 'jovial'? "It's from the French, which formed it from a Latin word." What's the definition of 'crochet'? "Needlework consisting of the interlocking of looped stitches." What is an alternative pronunciation of 'praline'? "Sometimes pronounced, 'prah-line.'"

Empty seats began to appear after the first round - after some of the students misspelled, their faces reddened and others clenched their fists at their sides. Tissues were passed to eliminated spellers being consoled by their mothers.

Josie Barboriak, a 9-year-old representing Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, burst into tears after misspelling "ingenue." She had been close to representing the final eight.

Phail Wynn Jr., Duke's vice president of Durham and Regional Affairs, walked up to her and touched her shoulder, crouching down to eye level.

"There were some tricky words up there," Wynn said. "You did a great job, OK?"

Miglarese said the real pressure is leading students through a difficult word and allowing them to "finish with a sense of pride."

"I really identify with their facial expressions," he said.

As the competition reached round 16, Miglarese told the audience that he hoped he didn't run out of words. Bettie eventually took home the prize. She said representing Duke on a national level meant "E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g."

We encourage Duke faculty, staff and students to share ideas, collaborate and discuss issues on Duke Today. To post a comment, you must log-in with your Duke NetID and password. Any comments or materials that are inappropriate, disrespectful or violate Duke policies will be deleted. These may include statements or materials that:

  • promote commercial enterprises;
  • sell, or solicit offers to sell, goods or services for personal gain;
  • promote a political candidate or political party; or
  • violate policies regarding personal, proprietary or protected health information.

For more information, visit our guidelines for posting content.


You are not logged in. Please log in to leave a comment. Comments are restricted to faculty, staff, and students.

Students Compete in Duke Spelling Bee

Students Compete in Duke Spelling Bee


Students from Durham and Orange counties battled through 25 rounds and more than 300 words for the opportunity to be crowned Duke Regional Spelling Bee champion. Read more in the Working@Duke story about the bee and the important role of pronouncer.

© 2016 Office of Communication Services
705 Broad Street, Box 90496, Durham, NC 27708
(919) 681-4533; FAX: (919) 681-7926

Submit A Story Idea

We value your suggestions and feedback. Got an idea for a story, video or photo you would like to see in Duke Today?

Submit a Story Idea