speller profile4

Joe Eberle/staff photographer Buffalo, NY - Nardin Academy 8th grader Michael Viola uses a dictionary to practice for the national spelling bee he will be attending in Washington, DC at the end of the month.

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Michael Viola now that he’s a spelling bee star. Now, he’s headed to Washington D.C. for the top spelling bee in the country.

Viola of Niagara Falls will be competing against 287 others of the country’s finest grade school spellers at the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the end of the month.

“You can’t go in expecting too much,” Viola said. “If everyone goes in expecting too much then 287 people are going to be disappointed. But after the local spelling bee, I’ve learned not to underestimate my chances — I really thought I was fighting against the odds and I ended up winning.”

Viola, an eighth-grader at Nardin Academy, almost missed the qualifying competition against 20 other Western New York students in March. A snowstorm had canceled another spelling bee the same day and he initially thought it was his.

He didn’t study much the night before and added: “I got to bed awfully late because I thought it was canceled.”

It turned out the bee was still on and eventually Viola found himself going head-to-head with one other student for the top prize.

“It was very heated,” Viola said. “We went back and forth a lot — there were simply a lot of words we couldn’t figure out.”

The word Viola finally aced to top his opponent? “Gelatigenous,” an adjective to describe something that produces a gluey substance. It’s not a word Viola uses in everyday conversation.

“I was able to figure it out because it sounded like it contained the word ‘gelatin,’ and the definition talked about a jelly-like substance,” he said. “That was a connection I could make. The suffix was a common suffix in the English language; it came from Latin.”

Knowing the language of origin is the secret to figuring out unfamiliar words, Viola said. Even when a word sounds easy, they can be tricky if they are of an unexpected origin.

With his spelling bee wins, he’s earned a reputation and finds himself getting quizzed randomly by friends.

“To be honest, I get enough of it already with studying, but I really don’t mind it,” he said.

Along with the usual teenage interests, politics is emerging as something Viola wants to pursue — maybe as a career someday.

“Even though I guess I’m pretty good at English, I probably wouldn’t go into a field directly related,” he said. “I don’t plan on being a writer. Politics has already interested me and lately, with this historic presidential election this year, it’s interested me even more.”

As for the national bee week starting May 26, he doesn’t know how well he’ll do, but he’s ready for anything.

“I like to always think, ‘I can do this,’” he said, “and I will do the as best as I can no matter what.”

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