The audience broke into applause as 16 third graders and 17 fourth graders from the Easton and Redding elementary schools made their way onto the stage at Joel Barlow High School this past Saturday morning to participate in the 14th annual Redding-Easton Spelling Bee.
The auditorium wasn’t just packed with parents, siblings, and grandparents of the Spelling Bee participants, but also the high school student mentors, and their parents and siblings, who were among those cheering the loudest.
The Spelling Bee is organized by the Keystone Club, a community program of the Boys and Girls Club of Redding-Easton. Once or twice a week since the end of January, high school Keystone Club members have been mentoring third- and fourth-grade spellers, not only to learn lists for the Bee, but also to instill a joy of words and make spelling and reading fun.
The weeks of practice and word games was rewarded on Saturday by all spellers making it past the first round — which included MOON, SONG and BASKETBALL — to relieved applause. Round 2 inched up the demand and added moments of hesitation over toughies like FLOUR versus FLOWER. The announcement from the judges heading into Round 3 that “We’re now starting difficult words” triggered gasps from the stage and hands clasped to cheeks.
Round 3 began, appropriately enough, with “KINDNESS,” and the speller nailed it. The quick escalation in difficulty to EVAPORATION was paralleled by an escalating tension in the room. Silence echoed between the letters as parents silently mouthed letters to themselves and siblings held their breath. The spellers fidgeted attentively, but also high-fived their competitors, and there was plenty of fun on stage as well: The carefully composed “That is correct” from a judge brought a spontaneous “Yay!” from a third-grade speller as he skipped back to his seat.
By Round 4, AI? AE? … one L or two? … EL versus LE … were becoming serious issues. Applause became more frequent as kids increasingly left the stage. Mentors scooted down the aisles to high-five their mentees and offer words of congratulations for a tough battle graciously fought.
Silent P’s and arcane hidden Gs began to appear as spellers were faced with words not on their practice sheets and closer to a high schoolers’ vocabulary—”I wonder does she know the meaning of EQUINE? Never mind, she nailed it.” It became increasingly difficult for the audience to suppress spontaneous applause, cheers, and an occasional gasp (tennis rules of polite decorum were requested and clapping only in between rounds).
“Round 5, the challenging words,” announced a judge as we were down to a single row of 10 spellers. The round opened with GUARANTEE (phew! made it!) followed by RETALIATION (ironically, there was no retaliation here, as the speller cruised through the maze of A’s and I’s.). ASPIRATION, SERENDIPITY, RECONCILIATION … I looked for hidden meanings in the sequences of words presented … OMINOUS was clearly ominous. FEROCIOUS. ANTAGONIST. INSISTENT. We were down to two fourth graders and two third graders as the fidgeting see-sawed between the stage and audience.
Spellers off the stage seemed to be having just as much fun as they had been while they were on the stage, as they took the opportunity to explore the tiers of the high school auditorium, bouncing among the seats in the back rows as the finalists’ letters reverberated through the room.
And with a final round of cheers for all participants, spellers, mentors, and family members, third grader Norah Rasmussen and fourth grader Nathaniel Cohen had won. Norah’s thoughtful comment, “I think I’ll do it again next year,” suggests it had been worth the effort. Nathaniel’s words of wisdom remind us “If you practice a lot, it pays off.” Clearly today paid off for all involved.
Third grade spellers: Sophia Baker, Will Bassett, Brooke DeLeon, Nicole DeLeon, Aiden Fitzgerald, Joseph Foley, Scarlett Fravel, Eleanor Kaufman, Caroline Knox, Bryant Krueger, Deesha Narayanaswamy, Lilly Pearlman, Norah Rasmussen, Lorelei Robertson, Saanvi Savith, Victoria Wyszynski. Fourth grade spellers: Jillian Aniston, Nathaniel Cohen, Joey Comis, Sean Connolly, Alexandra Humphrey, Alexander Jezowski, Cassius Kady, Graydon Knox, Saira Menon, Tommy O’Dowd, Logan Slater, Andrew Stolz, Sarina Sulzberg, Finn Taylor, Sophia Tian, Theresa Unfried, Avery Zolov.
(Photos/Simon and Ben Castonguay)