Spelling out a strategy


Every competitor had a different strategy during the Cherry Creek School District's Spelling Bee held on Feb. 6 at the Student Achievement and Resource Center.

Indeed, there were as many spelling styles as competitors as 36 CCSD students vied to earn a spot in the group of 20 who will head to the state competition in March. The competition was one of several programs offered through the district's Gifted and Talented Program. Some contestants barreled ahead with the task at hand, forgoing any hints that could be derived from a word's language of origin or proper use in a sentence. They started spelling soon after they heard the careful and exact pronunciation of a word from the Bee's moderator.

Others took any and every clue they could get, scrutinizing etymology and usage before they took a crack at words like "policy," "caterpillar" and "piecemeal." Some fidgeted, others stood stone still. One middle-schooler danced around the mic as he spelled, bursting with the adrenaline and excitement of a good competition. Another asked to listen to the first vowel sound in the word "ramada" several times before offering the correct spelling.



Every one of the spellers found their own way to pay heed to the advice of Bev Robin, the district's Spelling Bee coordinator who offered words of warning before the official contest kicked off.

"A slip of the tongue can make you lose a contest like this," she told the assembled crowd of students, parents, grandparents, friends and Cherry Creek community members. She went into painstaking detail about the rules and guidelines of the contest, in part because of its sheer size. "We've never had a competition this big."

The final group of 36 were culled from an impressive pool of competitors. Each of the 47 participating Cherry Creek elementary and middle schools had its own individual spelling bee in preparation for the big contest; a winning team of three to five students attended the district-wide Bee.  A total of 203 students from grades 2 to 8 in the lead-up to the big Bee, undergoing vocabulary tests and written spelling tests.

"Many of the participants in the oral bee had a very similar attitude to my own: 'Let's go out there, let's have fun, let's try our best,'" said winner Rayl Morris, of Thunder Ridge Middle School


Those who stepped to the microphone in front of a panel of judges that included former Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Mary Chesley and former Board of Education President Jennifer Churchfield had been through plenty of scrutiny before the actual contest started.

Even so, the demands didn't get in the way of the contest's friendly and convivial atmosphere. Even with a spot in the state competition on the line, these spellers offered moral support and kind words to their competitors.

"Many of the participants in the oral bee had a very similar attitude to my own: 'Let's go out there, let's have fun, let's try our best,'" said Rayl Morris, the 14-year-old eighth-grader from Thunder Ridge Middle School who ended up taking first place in the contest on Feb. 6. Morris ended up winning by correctly spelling the word "salvageable," a success he attributes to his French studies. "I was certainly very surprised that I won … There were some very bright students, and it was a very cheerful atmosphere."

Morris, who came in ahead of Campus Middle School students Austen Mazenko and Tess Rittenberg, remains humble about his win. He entered the final contest in a low rank after the written exam and the vocab test, and he chalks up his victory to the luck of the draw. Happily, the words he had to spell were all ones he knew thanks to his language studies.

"There were hard words that came up when I was sitting down," he said. "They gave me pause; they were words I didn't know how to spell."

But Morris' victory wasn't all luck. He was quick to thank several teachers from Thunder Ridge Middle School and even from Sunrise Elementary School for fostering his love of language. He even attributed his success in the Bee to his work in the performing arts, making a link between language and the rhythms and cadences of music (he's an avid viola player). That background helped him remain grounded and calm during the competition at SARC.

And he shows a similarly casual attitude when he talks about the prospect of competing with 19 of his peers at the state competition next month.

"There are certainly going to be spellers there who do this in their free time. This is what they train for, the way a professional athlete trains," he said. "I'm just going to go out there and have a good time. I don't consider my likelihood very high, but I'm going to go out there and try my best."

All the same, Morris beamed when he looked at his trophy from the district competition. The award is a testament to a good deal of hard work, focused study and impressive achievement.

Posted 2/26/2015 8:10 AM
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