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Photo by Jacqueline Cain
Ryan Joseph (foreground) won the MES spelling bee on Friday, Feb. 18, beating his friend Ben Hanson after dueling through two rounds.

For the second consecutive year, Ryan Joseph will represent Milton Elementary School at a statewide spelling bee in March, vying for the chance to represent Vermont in the Scripps National Spelling Bee this summer.

As a fifth grader last year, Ryan beat 11 MES fifth and sixth graders and finished in the top 10 out of 46 spellers in the Vermont bee, he said.

The only speller – indeed, the only person – wearing a tie in the 5/6 gym on the morning of Friday, Feb. 9, Ryan seemed poised for success.

Twelve fifth and sixth grade classes filled the bleachers to watch 24 contestants compete in a spelling contest. In the past few weeks, each group had its own classroom bee; competing on Friday were the top two spellers from each class.

The organizers decided to up the competition at this year’s bee by doubling the number of spellers, said 5/6 classroom teacher Rebecca Marsh, who emceed the event.

“This way, more students have a chance to participate,” she said.

As Marsh took roll call, each class gave the bleachers a cacophonous foot-pounding, clearly excited to cheer on their classmates.

Before the first speller approached the microphone, Marsh called up six students.

Cheyenne Pearce-Eaton, Suraya Davis, Willow Kelly, Ben Hanson, Krysta
Gottfried and Faith Carroll composed a school team that represented Milton at the Vermont Principals Association’s regional spelling competition held at Edmunds Middle School in Burlington in November. Marsh presented each student with a certificate and commented that the students were good sports.

The audience acknowledged the team, and Marsh handed the microphone to Tiffany Brigham, a fifth-sixth grade speech language pathologist who served as the pronouncer.

Brigham sat with school counselors Lisa Bongiorno and Jen Hawley at the judges’ table.

The rules of the bee were simple: The speller stood at the microphone, facing the judges. Brigham pronounced the word for the speller, who said it aloud, then articulated each letter. After pronouncing the word again, the speller waited for the judges’ decision.

“Abnormal” and “quench” were conquered. The third word, “whittle,” with its silent “h,” finally stumped a speller. After the first round, 13 spellers remained. Eight were left after three rounds, and only three spellers made it to the sixth round.

After having Brigham repeat the word twice, a girl missed one letter in “biscotti,” finishing the word with a “y.”

It was just the defending champion, Ryan, and regional bee speller Ben Hanson left. Ben, one of Ryan’s best friends, had beat Ryan in the classroom bee.

Ryan started the round. He correctly spelled “effervescent,” though the young man sounded none too confident as Brigham articulated the four fateful syllables.

“Effer-vescent?” Ryan turned the second syllable into a question as he repeated it to the judges. All three nodded.

“Effervescent,” Ryan declared. He had it now. “E-F-F-E-R-V-E-S-C-E-N-T.”

Next up, Ben Hanson.

“Your word is ‘cinematographer,’” Brigham said.

For a brief moment, Ben’s eyes bugged.

The crowd saw his expression, and a few people laughed, but it wasn’t a taunting giggle anticipating Ben’s humiliation – it was a nervous guffaw, made in relief that they weren’t standing at that microphone, challenged with spelling “cinematographer.”

But almost as fast as it arrived, Ben’s surprise faded. Replaced with cool confidence, he said, “C-I-N-E-M-A-T-O-G-R-A-P-H-E-R.” After the judges’ OK, he pivoted at the microphone, making room for Ryan, who correctly spelled “quizzical.”

“Lackadaisical,” Ben spelled.

Ryan’s turn. “Entrepreneur.”

Next, his friend Ben. “Variegated,” Brigham said.

“Variegated. V-A-R-I-A-G-A-T-E-D,” Ben spelled.

“Sorry; that’s incorrect.”

There was audible disappointment from the crowd.

Ryan approached the microphone and heard the championship-winning word: “quadrilateral.”

Brigham said it slowly, definitively.

“WHOOOAAA!!” the crowd reacted. Brigham had to shush into the microphone. The audience quieted immediately, barely dared breathing.

But “quadrilateral” posed no threat to Ryan. He spelled it easily.

After high-fiving all three judges, Ryan jokingly declared that he was now headed for Disney World.

As the crowd dispersed, Ryan joined his mother, Amy Joseph, and his friend, Ben.

“After him winning last year, it’s really a nice bonus,” his mother said. She and her son studied the Scripps list nightly to prepare for Friday’s bee, and his hard work paid off, she said.

“He had one today that stumped him at first – ‘entrepreneur,’” she said, but Ryan easily tackled it in the penultimate round.

“My favorite word was one he had,” Ryan said, pointing at Ben. “Zigzaggedness.”

Ben (correctly) spelled the word during round four, though no one – Ryan, his mother, Ben, nor this reporter – felt confident using it in a sentence.

Ben’s favorite word was “monstrosity,” he said.

Ben was satisfied with his own performance and was proud of his friend for winning two years in a row, he said.

Ryan Joseph will represent Milton Elementary School during the statewide Scripps Spelling Bee at St. Michael’s College on March 16.