2007-03-15 / News

Ragland wins spelling bee for second consecutive year

By Michaela Kennedy

Spelling bee winner John Ragland (left) exchanges congratulations last week with runner-up Nathan Pease. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Spelling bee winner John Ragland (left) exchanges congratulations last week with runner-up Nathan Pease. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Sixth grader John Ragland prevailed as the island champion for the second year in a row at last week's Jamestown school spelling bee.

Ragland will again represent Lawn Avenue School at the Rhode Island State Spelling Bee at Lincoln Middle School on March 24.

Three top spellers from each grade, five through eight, vied for the honor to represent Lawn Avenue School at the statewide contest. After 13 rounds and 10 eliminations, Ragland and eighth grader Nathan Pease faced off in six more rounds. Pease, who showed relaxed expertise throughout the match, finally succumbed to the younger champ, who correctly spelled the final two words, "diminish" and "forfeit".

Ragland admitted his early defeat at last year's state competition when he was eliminated in the second round. He expressed determination with his second chance at the state title, saying, "I hope things are going to be different this year."

Pease will be the alternate representative at the state level if Ragland is unable to participate.

Assistant principal and spelling bee moderator Michael Franco introduced pronouncer Catherine Kaiser and judges, sixth grade language arts teacher Elizabeth Weibust, and Principal Kathleen Almanzor. Weibust asked the audience not to make facial expressions at the spellers, especially since "they may be right and you may be wrong."

Franco went on to introduce the 12 competitors of the evening, who, in addition to Ragland and Pease, were Kaela Kennedy, Faith Chadwick and Ellissa Barclay de Tolly in fifth grade, Cara Liberati and Katherine Normand from sixth grade, Christian Ellerbe, Daniel Bailey and Sydney Keen in seventh grade, and eighth graders Emily Danilowicz and Michael Schnack.

Franco announced the rules of the match, which apparently have changed since the birth of the Information Age. His stern warning, "Mumbling, whispering, or text messaging to contestants is not allowed, but mental telepathy is okay," evoked titters from the audience.

Students were allowed to ask questions about each challenge, such as origin, how a word is used in a sentence, or alternate spelling.

Competitors began dropping out early, tricked with words like the French "massage" and Japanese "origami". By the end of the fifth round, more than half the contestants had left the stage. As the rounds continued, disqualifications slowed as rivalry became fierce.

Four competitors held strong through the twelfth round, including Chadwick, the youngest of the finalists. Chadwick exuded confidence as she completed correct spellings of progressively difficult words such as "barracuda" and "surplus".

Bailey also put forth fearlessness with smooth spellings of "hustle", "enough" and "cheddar". Chadwick and Bailey both buckled under the stiff competition in the thirteenth round.

Every year, the winner of the middle school spelldown goes on to compete with top spellers statewide. Participating students from public, parochial, private, charter and home schools advance through classroom, school building, and regional levels before competing on the state level.

The withdrawal last December of the contest's top sponsor, the Providence Journal, threatened the future of the state spelling bee. Luckily for the aspiring competitors, however, Valley Breeze Publishing in Cumberland stepped forth to fill in the gap, provide sponsorship, and save the tournament. Other co-sponsors include Utility Contractors Association of Rhode Island, Citizens Bank, Amica, and The Rotary Clubs of Rhode Island, according to WPRI Channel 12 News.

Franco reminded all contestants last week that, despite the fact that only one student would qualify for the state level match, "All participants tonight are winners."

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