San Diego Union-Tribune 

May 29, 2001 

Top county speller hopes to 
t-r-i-u-m-p-h in Washington


WASHINGTON -- Morgan Diefenbach, an eighth-grader at Oak Grove Middle School in Jamul, will be in the nation's capital this week to compete for the $10,000 top prize in the 74th annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. 

For the second year in a row, she competed in the annual countywide bee sponsored by The San Diego Union-Tribune and the San Diego County Office of Education in hopes of winning the chance to compete against the nation's top spellers in Washington. 

Last year, she lost. This year, she won. 

But she was taking in stride her trip across the country to compete against 247 other champion spellers representing all 50 states, the Bahamas, Europe, Guam, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

"I'm nervous a little bit, but I realize it's not the end of the world if you don't win," she said. "Hey, just have fun up there." 

Morgan's father, Andy Diefenbach, is excited about his daughter's opportunity to compete at the national level, but also wants her to enjoy herself. 

"She deserves to have fun with it and ought to enjoy it," he said. 

She had already seen many of Washington's historic sights on a school trip this year, but there is a lot more she hopes to see. 

Morgan is optimistic about her chances in the competition, which begins today and concludes Thursday, but says she can handle defeat, if it happens. 

"I figure it's not the end of the world if I look silly up there," she said. "Hey, everyone does. And the less nervous I am, the better I'll do." 

And while Morgan's friends have been at each other's houses, playing after school, she juggled her other activities and homework so she could prepare for the bee. 

Morgan is editor of her school's newspaper and yearbook and secretary of  the 4-H Club. She maintains a straight-A average and is raising 60 
long-haired guinea pigs. Yet she still finds time to practice spelling. 

"I don't miss out on a whole lot," she said. 

With help from her family, Morgan goes over words an hour a day. 

"My dad and I go over the words every day, especially as the competition looms," said Morgan. 

She is not the family's only speller. Brothers Tyler, 11, and Spencer, 8, hope to someday spell their way to Washington. 

"It's pretty funny," she said. "They'll try and spell the words I'm spelling. They take very good guesses." 

Besides trying to help her study, Morgan's little brothers have been looking forward to Morgan's return to Washington. 

"They're really excited for me," said Morgan. "Everyone at school is excited for me, too. It's kind of encouraging and helps me." 

The winner of the competition will receive $10,000 cash, prizes from 
Encyclopaedia Britannica and a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond and reference library from Merriam Webster. 

All spellers will receive commemorative watches and cash prizes ranging from $50 to $1,000 from the national bee. 

Morgan, who wants to be a veterinarian, says reading has been a key to 
developing good spelling skills. 

"Every book I've ever read is my favorite book," she said. "Right now I am reading 'Little Women.' " 

Reading is not something new. Her father remembers Morgan reading as early as age 2. 

"She picked up "Jurassic Park," the adult one, at age 4 and read it," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I asked her about it to make sure she really read it, and she knew everything."