2007-03-29 / Front Page

Islander runner-up in state spelling championship

By Michaela Kennedy

John Ragland spells a word at the state spelling bee. Photo courtesy of The Valley Breeze John Ragland spells a word at the state spelling bee. Photo courtesy of The Valley Breeze Sixth-grade student John Ragland is somewhat of a celebrity about town, according to his middle school principal.

Ragland placed second in last Saturday's statewide spelling bee, which makes him the alternate Rhode Island representative for the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held at the end of May.

The Lawn Avenue student toughed it out with 33 other top-ranking spellers in the state during the March 24 competition held at Lincoln Middle School. The only competitor able to outclass Ragland was an eighth-grader from John F. Deering Middle School in West Warwick, a girl who had been a runner-up in the previous year.

Ragland said it was a fun game, but nerve-wracking as well. "There are about 100 people there you don't know, and you don't know how good the other spellers are," he said. He added that no contestant got the number 13, "because it might be bad luck." Ragland's number was 16.

Jamestown School Principal Kathleen Almanzor is proud of Ragland's success, and called him "our expert." She said Ragland was "grinning from ear to ear" when he arrived at school last Monday morning. "John is a wonderful boy," she said.

Beth Weibust, the sixth grade English Language Arts teacher, praised Ragland's accomplishment, and commented how the experience has helped Ragland grow socially. "This year, he was interviewed on TV," she noted.

Weibust went on to say how spelling bees have "become a cool thing all of a sudden." She noted the excitement the other students shared with Ragland on Monday after the competition. The class watched a video of the match, and marveled at some of the dialogues Ragland engaged in with the offi- cials. "Expect him to be there next year," Weibust said with confi- dence.

Ragland talked about a word that especially stumped him, the German word stalag. "Wow, what word is this?" he recalled thinking, and immediately fell into an exchange with the pronouncer. He made all requests allowed to a competitor, including asking about the word's origin and alternate spelling, a discourse that lasted over three minutes.

"I didn't spell the word right, but everyone else got their word wrong, so I was still in it," he said with a grin.

Ragland credited the recent movie, "Akeelah and the Bee," for inspiring him. The movie tells the story of an 11-year-old girl who competes in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a goal many participants every year hope to reach.

Through study he found that he already knew certain words and did not have to study them. Other words he learned to recognize by language and culture. "You have to recognize patterns. Greek has a lot of ys and phs," he noted.

At the end of the school-wide spelling bee last month, Ragland expressed his hope that this year the state level would be different, and it was. Last year, Ragland's first chance in the state spelling competition, he stumbled in one of the early rounds. This year, his spelling practice paid off, and he was not disappointed with second place. "I'm excited just to be a part of it," he said.

He admitted that the national level of spelling bee seemed scary. "I might get a word like garfasnoogle or something," he quipped.

Ragland also admitted to enjoying the buzz around him. Maybe next year will be his year.

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