Fourteen-year-old Lena Greenberg reads from her dictionary.

by Sue Ann Rybak

Catallactics, contrecoup, cholecystitis were just a few of the words 14-year-old Lena Goldberg of Chestnut Hill had to spell to make it to the finals of the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 31.

Greenberg, who is homeschooled, placed fourth in this year’s competition held at National Harbor, Md. She tied for fourth place with Nicholas Rushlow, of Ohio, and Grifton Wright, of Spanish Town, Jamaica.

This year, 278 students ranging in age from 6 to 15 competed for this year’s title. In addition to a trophy, the winner received a $30,000 cash prize, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship, $2,600 worth of reference works, a Nook Color, an online language course and other awards.

Greenberg, who was one of nine finalists, blew through the first two rounds of the competition after correctly spelling otosteon and yttriferous, but failed to advance to the third round after misspelling geistlich.

Greenberg said she became hooked on words after watching the National Spelling Bee on television when she was 8 years old.

Marisol Villamil, Greenberg’s mother, said at first she was hesitant to allow her daughter to enter the regional competition.

“The movies portray spelling bees as this dog-eat-dog world, but it’s the polar opposite,” said Villamil, who has a background in journalism.

She added that the kids tend to think of it as “themselves against the dictionary” rather than a cutthroat competition.

“I highly recommend it to anyone who is moderately interested in words to pursue it,” Villamil said.

“It’s been an extremely positive and friendly experience.”

Lena’s father, David Greenberg, said his “favorite part [of the spelling bee] was seeing them give each other high five’s after they got words right.”

Both Lena’s parents said they were proud of her.

“I am really happy for her,” said Villamil. “It gives me so much joy to see her achieve her dream.”

A beaming Lena said she loved the support she got from the other participants.

“Every time I spelled a word correctly, they would shriek and cheer,” Greenberg said.

She added it was like having her own “cheering squad.”

As an eighth grader, this is the last year Lena is eligible to compete in the spelling bee.

“It’s kind of sad,” said Greenberg, who spent roughly five hours a day studying words. “Now that I am done with words there is this big void in my life.”

But the truth is that Greenberg is far from done with words. As a former executive editor of YALDAH, a national magazine for Jewish girls, and a published author, she has written articles for children’s magazines Stone Soup, Cricket, New Moon Girls and Creative Kids. Eventually, she would like to write her own book.

Besides spelling, Greenberg enjoys studying foreign languages and learning about other cultures. She is strongly interested in politics and news. She said she enjoys going to the BBC and CNN website everyday.

So, what’s next for the wordsmith?

“Who knows,” she said, “maybe I try out for ‘Jeopardy.’”

Until then, the real question is what to do with the thousands of flash cards and binders filled with spelling words scattered throughout her house.