DOWNERS GROVE – Some of the words Herrick Middle School eighth grader Nafisa Asad spelled correctly – schipperke, azimuth and zeitgeber – to win the county spelling bee would be hard enough for an adult to define, let alone spell on a moment’s notice.
“I read a lot,” she said Thursday, explaining her success, though she had never seen those words before in a book.
“I guess I retain information well. So whenever I see a word I don’t know, I like to look it up and find out what it means. And I did learn some Latin root words, and lots of other root words from other languages to help me spell.”
Asad’s victory Feb. 26 at the DuPage County Spelling Bee at Wheaton North High School won her and her parents, Asad and Farah Cheema, a free trip, sponsored by ComEd, to compete in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
The five day competition from May 26 to 31 will air nationally on ESPN3.
Asad, of Oak Brook, earned her seat at the county tournament by winning the Herrick/O’Neill middle schools spelling bee Feb. 10. In the days between, county contestants studied 16 pages of words in small type.
The early rounds of the tournament used words from the list, but once the competition dwindled to Asad and the other finalists, judges could pull any word from a mammoth 2,662 page dictionary. It proved to be no problem for Asad, who did not miss a word all day.
It was the third time she competed at county, but her first championship.
“I didn’t think that I would win, but I hoped to be in the top three, maybe,” she said. “And once I got there, I got real nervous because I realized I could actually win.”
She said she was in shock and speechless when she beat the final contestant standing between her and the prize. She received a certificate for the county championship, along with a huge dictionary to take home.
Now begins the arduous task of going through the book page-by-page to prepare for the national bee.
But the eighth grader is not the only proficient speller in the family. In fact, her initial motivation to compete in spelling bees came from her older sister, Nuria Asad.
The family had hoped to go to Washington, D.C. for the Scripps Spelling Bee several years ago when Nuria won the Iowa State Spelling Bee.
“We used to live in Iowa,” their father, Asad Cheema, said. “And they had no sponsor for the Scripps, so she wasn’t able to go. We could probably afford to send her anyway, but without a sponsor you cant go.”
The Cheema family also gave credit to the middle school, for Asad’s recent success.
“The staff and teachers at Herrick Middle School have been extremely supportive, especially assistant principal Matthew Neustadt and Megan Winthrop, her English teacher,” Asad Cheema said.