Four-time local spelling champion prepares for regional

He says he enjoys eating asparagus “a little bit.” Spelling “asparagus” capped a fourth straight Spring Grove spelling bee championship for 14 year-old Isaac Nerstad. 

The annual nationwide competition is open to fifth through eighth graders. Nerstad, now an eighth grader, has won the local bee all four years for which he has been eligible. That surpasses his older brother Devon, who took the Spring Grove title three times (all except his fifth grade year).

The words get more difficult as the competition progresses. This year, the Spring Grove District Bee went nine rounds before Nerstad was declared the winner among 20 spellers.

Contestants are allowed to write down their word before spelling it aloud, However, Nerstad said he did not write any of the words this year.

His winning word “asparagus” was one he knew, but Nerstad said “incomprehensible” (his seventh word) was his most challenging word this year. His other seven words were “stray,” “mutate,” “tapestry,” “prudence,” “molars,” “anagrams,” and “culminate.”

He said he knew all of the words that were used during the local bee this year. But the next step is always more challenging and a lot more work.

He said the preliminary study list for the Spring Grove bee contains about 200 words. In the upcoming regional competition, the study list has about 4,000 words. 

That long list of mostly unfamiliar words comes in printed form; contestants have to research the pronunciation, definition and origin. Pronunciation is especially critical in an oral competition.

The regional word list has been the same the last three years, making Nerstad’s repeat preparation a lot of reviewing from the previous year. But this year’s list is new and different - no preparation advantage for repeat competitors.

Words on this year’s study list include “syzygy,” “loup-garou,” “hiortdahlite,” “Erewhonian,” and “rhinorrhagia” along with about 3,995 others.

The Feb. 11 Regional Preliminary Spelling Bee at Rochester has a morning session and an afternoon session. Nerstad said there were with about 32 spellers in each session last year. The order in which they spell was determined by a drawing. 

Last year, the top six from each session (12 total) advanced to the finals - the Southeast Minnesota Spelling Bee Finals, which this year is back at Rochester on Feb. 25. The eventual regional champion advances to the national bee in Washington, D.C.

Last year as a seventh grader, Nerstad was third (second runner-up) in the regional finals.

In the national competition, the third place winner receives a prize of $15,000 with $25,000 going to the runner up and $50,000 to the national champion.