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Monday, September 1, 2014

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Spelling bee champ has no need for spell-check

Tags: Jewish learning
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Hebrew Academy Grade 8 student Matitya Loran displays his trophy after winning the regional Postmedia Canspell competition.

MONTREAL — In a dramatic showdown, Hebrew Academy Grade 8 student Matitya Loran won the regional Postmedia Canspell spelling bee after correctly reciting the letters in “viability.”

The 13-year-old now moves on to the national final, to be held in late March in Toronto. Only 21 students from across the country earned a spot in that meet. He also went home with a $5,000 scholarship for his university education.

Viability was the final word that the top three competitors after regular competition had to spell correctly to win, otherwise all three would have returned for another round.

The V-word was relatively easy for Matitya after having spelled such head-scratchers as leechcraft and waterzooi.

Parents Nathalie and Yaniv Loran describe their son as a voracious reader and a hard worker.

Matitya modestly commented on the gruelling meet: “It wasn’t easy.”

He was temporarily eliminated when the judges ruled that he had misspelled “vaquero.” When his parents and others in the audience protested that he had indeed spelled it right, bee officials played the tape and reversed their ruling.

The boy may have had a higher power on his side. “My daughter Sarah, who was sitting beside me, had been reciting Tehillim – the Psalms of David – from the very start of the bee and didn’t stop until after Matitya was eventually declared the winner,” Yaniv said. “She did this for well over two hours straight.”

Dad said his son was calm on stage, but he was “an absolute wreck. I simply couldn’t handle the pressure.”

Launched in 2005, Canspell is open to students across the country in grades 4 to 8. The Quebec regional, held at McGill University’s Moyse Hall, had 47 participants, the best among the 7,000 Quebec students who initially entered the bee in their school classrooms.

Matitya competed in the regionals last year for the first time and made it about halfway through, his father said.

He almost didn’t make it this year. Matitya was one of three high school finalists at Hebrew Academy and faced elimination when he misspelled isosceles. But then his two challengers muffed their words.

In the final school round, Matitya nailed the word rhomboid and won a berth at the regional.

Spelling skill well may run in the family. Matitya’s younger brother Nathaniel also competed this year at the Hebrew Academy primary school level for the first time.

He lost in the final round to Raquel Assayag, who went on to the Quebec finals. The Grade 4 student was the youngest participant, and made it to the second round.

“Initially I was disappointed for my son Nathaniel that he did not win,” Yaniv said. “In retrospect, I think it was a blessing. I don’t think I could have handled having my two sons on stage competing against each other.”

He confesses that he had never heard of many of the words the children were asked to spell. A lot of them were foreign, but have been adopted into English.

If Matitya is among the last three standing at the national finals in Toronto, he will go to the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., this spring.

Spelling has become so much a part of the Lorans’ life that Yaniv has designed a board game called Beeline to make it even more fun.

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