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Spelling bee puts students to the test

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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What does it take to win a spelling bee? An inclination to use a dictionary over a computer spellcheck program, for one thing. For Sopris Elementary School fourth-grader Kiersten Rounsefell, winning her grade’s spelling bee meant correctly spelling P-R-O-P-A-G-A-N-D-A in an alphabetical duel with classmate Sierra Martin, who took second place.No political commentary here. “Propaganda” was the word Rounsefell was tossed at the end of the school’s fourth-grade “Spelldown” after she and Martin spelled – and occasionally misspelled – their way to the Roaring Fork School District bee. The district bee was held Feb. 23 at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs.

Rounsefell didn’t win at the district bee, but from the smile on her face at the awards ceremony, it was clear she was having fun anyway. A spelling bee can be an emotional time for all involved – a time when parents express deep pride in the successes of their children, and when students revel in the fact that their spelling prowess can score them a pat on the back. Just getting to the district bee was a matter of survival of the fittest speller. When it comes to the fine line between words like the nearly-homophonous “courier” and “career,” it’s a cruel world out there. At Sopris Elementary, one student correctly spelled “courier,” when she was actually given “career.” She missed the word.

SpelldownEach Roaring Fork School District campus held its own “spelldown” for each grade. At Glenwood Middle School, that meant standing on the school stage before a lunchroom packed with peers, taking your best shot at the typical sixth-grade lexicon – words like “fisticuffs,” “vendetta,” and “succotash.”Can’t you see it? “Dude, did you see Jeremy get in fisticuffs with Joey over his plate of succotash?” “Whatever. It’s a vendetta. That’s so lame.”You’d be lucky to get a sixth-grader to stand within 10 feet of a plate of succotash. Somewhere amid the students’ alphabetical dance, one student was asked to spell “ludicrous.”She paused, smiled, and spelled, “L-U-D-A-C-R-I-S.”That’s the rap star who has an explicitly lyrical album called “Word of Mouf.” I guess correct spelling doesn’t get you much street cred, if you know what I mean. For Bobby Petts, his good vocabulary scored him plenty of spelling cred. Named sixth-grade champion for spelling “colonization,” he and his classmate Jake Bair, who won second place with “consecutively,” were off to the district bee. For seventh- and eighth-graders, that meant competing against each other.At the district bee, about a dozen students sat wall-to-wall in a rather uninspiring CMC classroom, with Basalt Middle School Principal Christian Kingsbury running the show. Kids fidgeted, looked at their feet, fiddled with papers they were given and yawned as they were being read the rules of the game.One student wondered why the two grades had to compete together. “I don’t know,” Kingsbury said with a giant dictionary by his side that nearly occupied a full cubic foot. “It has something to do with the National Spelling Bee rules.”He pronounced the first word, “lacquer.” The first student spelled, paused, missed the word. Many stumbled their way through the next several dozen words ranging in difficulty from “escrow,” to “isosceles.”



Emotions run highAfter several rounds, those who stumbled early fell out of the competition. Finally, it was Dan Holloran, a BMS eighth-grader, who prevailed, even though the bee continued after a complex turn as students faced each other with a separate “spelldown” for fifth and sixth places and another for fourth through second places. The final stumper was “rhododendron,” securing Abril Loya’s spot in second place as the alternate to the state bee in Denver.After the competition, the group filed upstairs to the awards ceremony where Reynis Vasquez held and kissed her daughter, Basalt middle-schooler Reynis Vasquez, for winning the fifth-grade competition. Reynis the younger was so excited about winning, she said, “I’m still shaking. This is just like a big surprise.”The tear of pride in Reynis’ mom’s eyes told her feelings quite well. She was “happy, happy,” she said.

The younger Reynis’ classmate Rebecca Holland scored third place in the contest. She was disappointed she didn’t do better, but her mother said a spelling bee isn’t just about getting a trophy. “I’m just proud she came down to do it,” Kim Holland said. “I didn’t care if she won or lost.”Bair, all smiles, earned himself bragging rights to the trophy for the district’s top sixth-grade speller. He was the only student from outside Basalt who took first place in any of the district spelling competitions. After the trophies were handed out, pictures were taken and tears were shed, the curtain closed on the local spelling bee season, and students who care about how their friends construct words on a stage began to anticipate Holloran’s success at the state spelling bee in Denver at the end of March. State beeHolloran spelled himself the honor to represent RFSD at the state bee sponsored by the Scripps newspaper chain, the owner of the Rocky Mountain News. If he does well and is able to spell words like “hebephrenia” or “superencipherable,” he could go on to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C., on May 31 and vie for the honor of America’s greatest student speller. Holloran has been trying to win a spelling bee since sixth grade. “I guess it’s an accomplishment I guess I can put on, like, a resume or something,” he said Tuesday. He said he feels nervous, but he’s studying a list of strange and obscure words he picked up from the Rocky Mountain News, the official Scripps guide to the 2006 National Spelling Bee.



Apparently, says the Scripps guide, they’re listed in the 2002 edition of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.Not to worry. “My teacher is going to get an online thing for me,” Holloran said, adding that his mother will quiz him on the words. “I guess I’m thinking it’s going to be hard,” he said. “It just seems hard.”Hard indeed. Once in Denver, he’ll take a written test, and if he finishes in the top 25, he’ll stand on a stage before a plethora of people and, perhaps, enunciate “P-E-R-S-P-I-C-A-C-I-O-U-S” to win the right to go to Washington.


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