The AARP Spelling Bee Saturday night at the AARP National Spelling Bee championship, 64-year-old Michael Petrina Jr. of Arlington, Va., became the top senior speller in the nation.
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The AARP Spelling Bee

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The AARP Spelling Bee

The AARP Spelling Bee

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Last night in Cheyenne, Wyoming, it came down to just four letters in the AARP National Spelling Bee.

Mr. MICHAEL PETRINA JR. (AARP National Spelling Bee Champion): Woad, W-O-A-D, Woad.

STEWART: And a few minutes later…

Unidentified Man #1: Judges, do we have ourselves a winner? This is the end of the round.

Unidentified Man #2: We do have a winner.

(Soundbite of applause)

STEWART: And with that, 64-year-old Michael Petrina Jr. of Arlington, Virginia beat out 45 other contestants to win. He joins us on the phone from Cheyenne this morning. Good morning, and congratulations, Mr. Petrina.

Mr. PETRINA: Thank you, Alison. How are you?

STEWART: I'm doing fine. So, what went through your mind when they gave you the word woad?

Mr. PETRINA: Well, happily I knew that word, but I had to wait for my worthy opponent, Scott Firebaugh, to miss his word before I won. So, it was very nerve-wracking for about three or four minutes while he thought about his word.

STEWART: All right, for our listeners who are wondering, what's a woad - what's a woad?

Mr. PETRINA: A woad is an herb.

STEWART: And it's also a dye, as well?

Mr. PETRINA: Probably, yes.

STEWART: Now, how did you get involved in this contest in the first place?

Mr. PETRINA: About two years ago I was flipping through my AARP magazine and I noticed an article on their spelling bee. Thought it would be fun to try out and I went out for my first time two years ago, and I think I came in third and thought that maybe I could do better. So this is my third try, so I was very lucky - yesterday, I finally made it up to number one.

STEWART: So, third time really was the charm for you.

Mr. PETRINA: Yes, it was.

STEWART: Were you a competitive speller as a kid?

Mr. PETRINA: Actually, I was. I hate to date myself, but I was in the 1958 National Spelling Bee when I was 13.

STEWART: Now, are you naturally a good speller or are you someone who has to prepare?

Mr. PETRINA: Well, probably a combination of both. I do definitely have to prepare, but I enjoy spelling.

STEWART: And I understand you - some of the credit really goes to your dad.

Mr. PETRINA: Well, he actually took me to Washington in 1958. And I'm looking forward to telling him this morning that I won. He was not in last night when I called, so I want to call and wish him a happy Father's Day and give him the news.

STEWART: That's a great present. And I'm sure you got a present, a trophy of some kind or what kind of prize was there?

Mr. PETRINA: There was some cash, some dictionaries and a little plaque that they're going to engrave.

STEWART: Now, what's next for you in the world of competitive spelling? Can you come back again or once a champ, that's it?

Mr. PETRINA: I can't come back again unless they change the rules. So, I get to go on a little break for a while, which will be fine.

STEWART: All right. Well, congratulations to you once again for your big win last night. Michael Petrina Jr. of Arlington, Virginia won the AARP National Spelling Bee last night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Thanks so much for joining us and congrats again.

Mr. PETRINA: Thank you, Alison.

STEWART: This is NPR News.

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