When seventh-grader James Parker of Spotsylvania County began prepping for his school’s annual spelling bee earlier this year, one thing gave him a bit of an edge.

It was twin brother Andrew, who’d won St. Patrick School’s bee in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades before James claimed that honor this year at the Catholic school in Spotsylvania.

There’s a competition between the brothers that motivates them, and they have a shared goal of someday winning their way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“We usually start serious studying two months or so before the school bee,” said James, with Andrew noting that the daily sessions start with them looking over word lists for a while and then having “Dad call words to us back and forth, just like the real thing.”

That preparation and knack for remembering the way words look on the printed page helped James become this year’s winner of the Arlington Diocese spelling bee. To do that, he had to edge out all the other winners from each grade-level spelling bee from St. Patrick, Holy Cross and Saint William of York Catholic schools.

James is set to take the stage at James Monroe High School on Saturday at 10 a.m. for the 14th annual Fredericksburg Spelling Bee, sponsored by The Free Lance–Star and Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

There, he’ll square off against 15 other competitors, each representing schools or home-school populations in Fredericksburg, Colonial Beach and Spotsylvania, Stafford, Caroline, Culpeper, Fauquier, King George, Orange and Westmoreland counties.

The 12-year-old James, whose love of topics such as “potions and alchemy” make him a huge fan of Kevin Sands’ “Blackthorn Key” books, said he’s had one thing pushing him to get better in each year’ spelling bee competitions.

“Since Andrew won the fourth grade, I’ve always tried to beat him,” said James. “That’s what keeps me going.”

That happened this year when Andrew stumbled a bit on a word he misheard as singular instead of plural, opening the door for James to finally win his way past his brother.

The twin’s parents, Michael and Marcie Parker, say they’re extremely proud of their boys, both for the spelling bee victories and achieving top grades in their studies year after year.

Michael Parker noted that while he had some success in spelling bees as a youngster, he’s enjoyed seeing both of his sons do “a lot better than I did.” The father said that in addition to calling out words in spelling practice, he tries to help his sons learn new words “by actually looking up definitions and pronunciations online so when they get up on stage and hear a strange word, they will at least have heard it before.”

Marcie Parker said she’s also proud, though doesn’t get as involved with spelling bee prep “because I’m more the math and science parent.”

James said that he’s preparing for the regional bee by continuing to pore over the lists of words that competitors get to study, especially the lists of foreign-language words that get pulled out in the tougher, later rounds of regional bees.

“I try to do a language a day,” he said, adding, “I feel like Greek words are the toughest, because they are often very long words, with pronunciations that can sometimes fool you.”

The youngster, who thinks he might like to work in the technology field later in life, said that while he enjoys competing in spelling bees, he doesn’t always love the preparation.

“I have fun with the bees themselves,” he said, but admitted that he gets tired of all the studying to get ready for them.

But he said the studying is worth it “if helps me get to my primary goal, going to the national bee.”

And while James has certainly benefited from having a twin to study with, he will be going up against another competitor in the Fredericksburg Regional Spelling Bee who has had a somewhat similar advantage.

She’s Kira Peters, an eighth-grader at King George Middle School who won the school division bee. Her sister, Kylie Peters, a sixth-grader at King George Elementary, came in a close second.

Kira is one of several spellers making a return trip to the regional bee. Ethan Mallon of Grymes Memorial School is representing private schools for the third straight year, while Kevin Springer returns as the home-school representative. They’ll join the newcomers in trying to dethrone Spotsylvania’s Samantha Ho, who is back for a third year after winning last year’s regional crown to advance to the national bee.

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Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415