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Rio Grande Valley and AIM Media Texas speller Robbie Ortiz is back from the 95th Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland, with a few mementos but having fallen short of the top prize.
While disappointed not to have made more of a run at the national spelling crown, he said he was just grateful for having gotten to the contest, held just minutes from Washington, D.C.
Ortiz went out in the first round, meaning that like the other 59 spellers who didn’t spell their first word he finished in a tie for 173rd place.
As Ortiz retold the experience, he came back several times to not to wanting to “get out.” He attributed his success to having studied word lists with his parents, Robert and Leandra Ortiz of Harlingen, crossing off words he got right and going back later to the ones he missed.
Ortiz qualified for the national bee by winning the Rio Grande Valley Regional Spelling Bee in April in Edinburg.
“That day I didn’t come in thinking I’m going to lose or I’m going to win, I just went in trying to do my best. So I was pretty nervous because it always sucks to get out. I didn’t want to get out, but my words came and I knew them,” he said, attributing success to having done the work.
“Once I got to the top five I was like I can win, I know I can, so then I just kept getting my words right. I hate to say this, but I was hoping the other people would get out. And they did,” he said.
“I ended up winning, and I was pretty excited about that. I got to hold up the trophy. I enjoyed my day after that, and I knew the next step was the national spelling bee, so I kept studying for that. It was about a month away.”
Robbie represented the Rio Grande Valley, AIM Media Texas newspapers including The Brownsville Herald, Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, and The Monitor in McAllen, as well as Incarnate Word Academy of Brownsville, ironic in that this was IWA’s last year as a school and the last year of eligibility for Ortiz, 13, an eighth-grader.
He said the list of words for the national spelling bee was about 15 pages long.
“So we kept studying, my parents and I, and then eventually the national spelling bee rolled around and you know, when I got up, when I got my word, I tried to spell it but it didn’t work out and I was pretty bummed out about that but I was still glad for the experience,” he said.
The word he missed was agnilotti, a type of pasta.
Ortiz will be a freshman at Brownsville’s St. Joseph’s Academy when the 2023-2024 academic year begins in August.
“The reason I want to go is because my mom went there and my sister went there and you know they all had good things to say about it. And I was thinking it might be the school for me. I have a lot of friends that are going there as well,” he said.
As for Incarnate Word Academy, Robbie said when he heard the news it was going to close, he thought it wasn’t real.
“My friends told me that, and I thought they’re joking. When I did find out that it was real, that it was really happening, that it was true, I had no words I was just in shock, you know. It had been around for 170 years. You think that it’s just going to go on forever, it’s never going to end. But it does and you’re left speechless. And I was just a bit sad that all the history was going to be gone,” he said.
Asked if he felt a sense of history surrounding the national spelling bee, he said he loved the trip.
“Well when I went there I thought it was pretty cool. There’s a lot of stuff to do there, the monuments and memorials in D.C., which is like 20 minutes away. …It was just a cool experience. My mom and dad enjoyed it a lot, but I think I enjoyed it the most. My mom and dad had the opportunity to watch me in the spelling bee, but I was doing it,” he said.
Robbie also said Incarnate Word Academy’s departure makes him sad.
“I’ve been there, this last year was my 11th year there, so I’ve been going there since I was really little. I remember a lot of my early ages. I do have some early memories. I just remember the teachers were really nice. Even if you were struggling in a subject, they were always there to help you out …They’re strict, but yet they’re laid back at the same time. It’s just like the perfect mix where they just end up teaching you everything you need to know, and all the kids there are really nice too, so you make friends. It’s just an all all-around good time.”
“So you’ll miss that?” the reporter asked.
“I do. A lot.”