Richard Harrison

Richard Harrison

Master of words up to challenge

A love of words, a passion for reading, an aptitude for spelling and a dose of adrenaline helped Richard Harrison triumph at the 2011 Postmedia Canspell regional championships in Kelowna earlier this month after spelling the winning word, “adumbrate.”

The Grade 5 student at Harwood Elementary School now heads to the national championships  in Toronto, accompanied by his father — and coach — Bill Harrison, his mother, Rita Harrison, and his brother, Charles.

At regionals, the top 35 spellers from schools in the Okanagan and Kootenay areas competed against each other, with more than 2,000 students ages nine to 14 vying for spots in the contest. In addition to the all-expenses trip to Toronto with his family and a crystal trophy, Richard’s win earned him a $5,000 Canspell Education Award courtesy of Egg Farmers of Canada and a Sony eReader.

To get to regionals, Richard first had to earn top spot at his school contest, which he did after going head-to-head in the final with his brother, who is in Grade 3 at Harwood.

“Three students from each class make it to the school bee and it’s a process of elimination,” he said.

The Harrison family home is one where books take top priority, not the latest kids’ fare on TV. Friday night is movie night, but there is no cable and only a limited amount of computer time.

Not even out of elementary school, Richard already has his future planned, and is looking at a career as a linguist. And in the fall, he will begin the late French immersion program at Harwood.

“To practise, we take the word list and my dad quizzes me and he also quizzes me from a list of random words from the dictionary,” said Richard, 11. “We do spelling practice about an hour every afternoon.”

Bill said he also works on languages with his son, because knowing the origin of a word can be helpful in determining the correct spelling.

“He has always loved words and language and he also prepares by reading voraciously,” said Bill. “Our home pivots around the use of words and language. The spelling took him by surprise — he was in Grade 3 when he won at school the first time and he’s really taken to it.

“I am very proud of him, and it is a family thing, and while he looks completely cool and calm on stage, I’m dying as I watch him.”

Always with a book on the go, his taste in reading leans towards fantasy and science fiction as well as non-fiction. But he’s also been exploring the classics of English literature and is currently reading Jane Eyre and Great Expectations.

Richard is also hoping to learn Japanese, although he already has an ease with the written version.

“Any words that are adapted from Japanese into English, I can spell those. I also have a Latin tutor I study with on Sundays — some friends are impressed and some are incredulous that I’m learning a dead language,” he said, as his dad adds, “We’re learning to live with a little incredulity.”

Richard will be one of 21 top spellers from across the country who will gather March 23 to 27 for the 2011 Postmedia Canspell National Spelling Bee Final.

The top three competitors at the nationals will share in $15,000 in Canspell Education Awards, courtesy of Egg Farmers of Canada, and advance to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in June.

“I think a lot of us are going to be a bit fatalistic because the three-time champion will be competing again this year,” said Richard, before explaining the meaning of his regional winning word. “Adumbrate means ‘to imply.’”

CBC Television will air the final in a special, Spelling Night in Canada, to be broadcast across the country April 4 at 5 p.m. (PST).