Belmont County spelling champ enjoying D.C.

BELMONT County champion speller, Justin Hamilton, of Union Local Middle School is in a hive of activity this week in Washington, D.C., during the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, and he even has a BeeKeeper.

Christine Smith, a Union Local teacher and one of two designated bee coaches, told how much Hamilton is enjoying the bee activities, adding that each of the spelling competitors from across the nation received a BeeKeeper 2013 so they can collect autographs from other spellers and socialize. The book also includes short descriptions of the competing students.

“Anytime Justin sees another speller, he tries to get an autograph,” she said. “This is really great in getting to know one another.”

Smith said the spellers received the BeeKeepers during Sunday’s orientation session which she described as “really nice.” She added the students were told, “You are in the top 281 spellers in the nation.”

The spellers are staying at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center complex, which anchors the National Harbor entertainment district.

“The hotel is pretty awesome with 2,000 rooms. … Justin’s already made a few friends, and he loves the hotel,” said Smith. “It’s an experience he’s never had before, and he wants to come back next year.”

It was the first trip to Washington, D.C., for Justin, whose parents are Paul and Rachel Hamilton.

The spellers attended a Memorial Day Barbecue Monday at the Pavilions of Turkey Run. They traveled by buses to the pavilions where there was quite an array of foods available in addition to the aroma of popcorn popping.

Crafts, games, horses, a replica of a 1771 farm and a disc jockey with dancing were part of the activities. Smith said the DJ gave prizes, and Justin earned a prize for his dancing.

“The barbecue was so much fun,” she added.

After the barbecue, the spellers went swimming.

Sponsors for the Belmont County Spelling Bee and its champion are The Times Leader, Riesbeck’s Food Markets, Airport Limousine, the East Central Ohio Educational Service Center, Ohio Lottery, The Citizens Bank and AAA Ohio Auto Club.

Work begins in earnest today when the spellers participate in the preliminaries test during the morning. Each speller reserves a test time for the this computer test when completing the Champion Profile at

An assembly is scheduled tonight from 7-8.

Spelling bee activities will continue through Friday, ending with tours of the nation’s capital, an awards banquet and a farewell party. Pokas can be reached at