Peoria girl among 2 Ariz. kids in national spelling bee
Arizona Republic
May 29, 2008


by Betty Reid

Arizona's two top spellers are in the nation's capital this week to compete in the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which starts Thursday.
They are Peoria's So-Young Iris Chung and the Navajo Nation's Natasha Begay.
The middle-schoolers are among 288 children from the United States, American Samoa, the Bahamas, Canada, Europe, Ghana, Guam, Jamaica, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who will compete for the nation's top speller title in Washington, D.C.
Days before the competition, the girls admit they are nervous.
"I feel like, if I lose, it'll be bad, and I'm afraid of disappointing everyone who said, 'good job' to me," said So-Young, 12, who is competing in her first national bee.
So-Young, who finished sixth grade last week at Terramar Elementary School, was surprised at the outpouring of support for her, even from strangers, when she clinched the state title by correctly spelling "bantamweight."
An 85-year-old woman wrote her a letter, saying "good job" and wishing her well.
"I didn't think she would know about the spelling bee," So-Young said.
Begay, 14, giggles when she's nervous, and she has had plenty of those moments lately.
Even though it's her second trip to the National Spelling Bee, it doesn't make the competition easier for her.Some days, the shy eighth-grader at Tsaile Public School feels ready and other days she isn't.
Begay started entering spelling-bee contests in third grade, when she fell in love with the sound of English words. The teen, whose favorite subject is language arts, correctly spelled "bravura" to win a second trip to the national bee representing the Navajo Nation.
"I'm nervous because there are going to be a lot of spellers," Begay said.
After winning the state bee, So-Young found herself distracted from her studies because of outside responsibilities tied to her winning the title. She had interviews and guest appearances and received honors.
For a short time, her grades slipped in spelling. She dropped from getting A's to B's on tests because she had new demands on her time.
Today, she studies words four hours daily over the dining-room table with her father, James Chung, a business owner and former university professor.
She's hoping for the best in Washington. "I like winning," she said.
Natasha says her mother, Janet Smith, is her anchor, coach and role model. The mom-and-daughter team spends two hours a day reviewing spelling words, relying on a list that is provided online and that includes the language of origin, definitions and correct pronunciation.
"There are words that throw her," Smith said. "Like the ones that end in 'ious,' some of them are foreign words. She has to recognize what language the words are from."
Their studies are in the living room of their mobile home, tucked in the woods, a half-mile north of the Navajo Nation's Dine Community College.

More than spellers

Both girls say their lives go beyond spelling.
Math is So-Young's favorite subject, and she enjoys swimming and plays outdoors.
Natasha hikes, plays volleyball, fishes at Wheatfields Lake and, once a month, enjoys going to a Farmington, N.M., mall, two hours away from home.
Natasha likes teen pop star Miley Cyrus, and listens to hip-hop singer Chris Brown.