By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Sally Lynch — who pronounced spelling words at the Archdiocese of Louisville District Spelling Bee Feb. 24 — said that as she sat looking into the eyes of the competitors, she prayed they spelled their words correctly.
“It’s a tremendous feeling and a rewarding experience to be with the student in that moment,” said Lynch, a retired educator who’s served as a volunteer judge at the spelling bee for some 20 years.
Twenty-eight fourth through eighth graders competed in the annual spelling bee, held at the Flaget Center. They were already winners of their schools’ individual contests.
After several rounds and words — that ranged from the monosyllabic y-i-e-l-d to the trickier p-r-e-c-i-p-i-t-a-t-i-o-n — Charlie Brashear, a sixth-grade student at St. Raphael School, won the district competition. He will advance to the Kentucky Derby 2015 Ford Motor Company state competition.
Second place went to Hunter Ruckriegel, a seventh-grade student from St. Edward School.
After the competition, Jennie Condra, one of Brashear’s teachers, said, “I am not surprised that Charlie won. He is very conscientious and always goes above and beyond. We are definitely proud of him.”
Students begin preparing for spelling competitions several weeks in advance.
In preparation for the district bee, each speller received a spelling list along with the competition rules and some helpful tips, said Karen O’Connell, coordinator of the spelling bee and the curriculum coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
They had at least three weeks to study for the district contest.
The district bee is an important event, O’Connell said, because it “creates a way to showcase academic skills.”
On the other side of the microphone, the judges have to prepare for the spelling bee, too.
Retired educators Patricia Pohl and Margie Middleton have volunteered as judges for the spelling bee for 20 years, alongside Sally Lynch.
Each year, the three women meet after they’ve received the contest rules and the list of about 350 words.
They review everything “with a fine-tooth comb,” said Middleton.
The rules change every year, she noted. They also review the spelling list to ensure there aren’t problematic words (such as words that are synonyms or words with poor definitions). The judges also look over the spellers’ names to make sure they pronounce the names correctly.
“We take it seriously,” Pohl said. “We love the kids. They are so serious, hardworking and they give it their all.”
Pohl thinks of the spelling bee as a “legacy from the old days.” She described her involvement with the bee as a “privilege, not a duty.”
Lynch, Pohl and Middleton noted that the students are often nervous because they’re faced with an audience (usually nervous parents and grandparents) and the novelty of speaking through a microphone.
Lynch said she feels “heartache” when a child misspells a word, but the judges agree the spellers handle it well.
“They are gracious when they lose,” said Middleton. “They don’t hang their heads and they sit with the group till the round is over.”
That’s because the students are proud to represent their schools and know that it was a privilege to have advanced to the district competition, the three women agreed.