Emme Whitebone | Craig Hudson/Scripps National Spelling Bee

Emme Whitebone is a stellar speller! Out of the 11 million spellers who competed nationwide, she was among the 231 who qualified for the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. The Bee showcased more than Emme’s spelling skills. She performed a skit with pronouncer Dr. Jacques Bailly, did commentary with ESPN’s Paul Loeffler, and starred in a promotional video for next year’s Bee. 

Emme, who is 13 years old and going into eighth grade at Forest Park Middle School, went to D.C. with her mom, Kyra Tyler, and her grandmother, Deborah Tyler. Two corporate sponsors, Pepper Construction and Wight & Company, paid for their travel and accommodations. They stayed at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland. 

Emme Whitebone and Dr. Jacques Bailly | Craig Hudson/Scripps National Spelling Bee

As soon as they arrived, they registered for the Bee and picked up a bag of swag. Emme didn’t know anyone there but quickly joined in group activities. Her team competed in a word challenge, solved puzzles scattered around the hotel and played bags. 

Most of the spellers were middle-schoolers, so Emme connected with students her own age. Two were from Chicago and one was from Florida. Spellers strolled down the “Hall of Champions” where photos of previous winners are displayed.

When competition began, Emme was in the first block of 58 spellers. After spellers heard their word, they could ask for its part of speech, definition and to hear it in a sentence. Emme wasn’t nervous. As Kyra said, she is a “cool customer.” She asked for her word to be repeated six times. She wasn’t familiar with oxyacetylene and left out the second “y.” She wasn’t alone. Twenty-two of the 58 were eliminated on their first word.  

After the round was over, they visited the Washington Monument and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She later watched the quarterfinals, semifinals and final round and did live commentary on the competition with Loeffler. Emme was poised and professional behind the anchor desk. She was already accustomed to being on TV, after interviews with WGN and NBC. Later, she had her photo taken with TV and movie actor, Yvette Nicole Brown.

Becoming an actor is one of Emme’s aspirations. She has been performing since the age of 6 and landed an agent when she was 9. She did a commercial for Brach’s Candy Hearts and has also displayed her range in local theater productions. She portrayed the evil Miss Trunchbull in Matilda and the sweet Marian the librarian in The Music Man. But she isn’t just content to be an actor. She is taking voice and dance lessons. Her current passion is tap dancing.

Emme doesn’t just make music with tap shoes, she has also played the cello since she was 4. She is a member of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, which performs in college auditoriums. She appreciates classical music, especially some of the French composers. That makes sense since Emme is using an app to learn French. She is also in the Art Club at FPMS and serves on the student council.

Emme and Kyra believe the middle school is burdened by a reputation it doesn’t deserve and that this misperception about District 91 schools is harmful to our community. Kyra would know. She is the past president of the D91 school board and still serves as a board member. Emme received a solid education at our elementary schools and loves Forest Park.  

“I love the community and the culture and all the shops,” she said.

Now that her six-day trip to D.C. is over, Emme does not plan to enter another spelling bee. And unless she goes into welding, she’ll never have to spell oxyacetylene.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.