Spellbound

Sister of pronouncer wins Haas Hall Fayetteville’s Spelling Bee

BY MYRANDA NEW

Staff Writer

Without autocorrect, not everyone could spell words like pestiferous, interstices or clandestine. Yet at Haas Hall Academy Fayetteville, 40 seventh- and eighth-grade scholars competed against one another for an hour and a half spelling words like those.

Judged by English teacher Lily Fretueg and with freshman Sam Bishop as the pronouncer, three winners pulled through after 26 fast-paced rounds. At the start of round five, the pronouncer went off book and used a list not previously given to scholars.

In first place, winning $100, was seventh-grader Kate Bishop, the younger sister to the pronouncer who placed second the year prior. Seventh-grader Brenda Willis won $50 for placing second and seventh-grader Sohan Prabhudesai won $25 for placing third.

“Having all three of my students in the top three was heart-pounding, and I was rooting for all of them,” English teacher Jessica Clark said. “I wanted all of them to win in their moment, and it was really exciting. I’m proud of all of them.”

Four of the 26 rounds were championship rounds where, if the scholar correctly spelled their word, he or she would win the entire competition. Each of the three scholars who placed had their own championship round and left audience members on the edge of their seats.

The winning word “oceanography” earned Kate Bishop the first-place title at the end of her second championship round.

“I look forward to the Spelling Bee every year,” Fretueg said. “I’m grateful to Sam Bishop for being our pronouncer, and I loved watching him read the winning word to his sister.”

It seemed like nearly half of the scholars were eliminated when the first few rounds ended. The last few rounds, though, were slow and steady. Some of the scholars pronounced letter by letter, taking their time, while others rushed through with confidence. It was also common to see scholars writing on their arms or hands, attempting to visualize their words.

Contrary to what some may think, scholars spend quite an extensive amount of time studying for the Spelling Bee, despite how the ability may come naturally to them.

“My friends and I would all quiz each other throughout the day,” Kate Bishop said. “What’s funny is after the seventh-grade list was given out, I didn’t know there was list of eighth-grade words. I studied all of those over and over again the night before.”

Using websites like Spelling City, scholars tested themselves after memorizing the list. Others, like Prabhudesai, simply stuck to rereading the sheet handed out.

“I studied 30 minutes every day. I would read the list and then my parents would quiz me,” Prabhudesai said. “Get someone else to ask you words after you read them.”

To some scholars, last-minute studying was the most-effective strategy for their memory.

“If you’re slow to pick up, prepare before and study a lot,” Willis said. “But if you are fast, last-minute studying may work better. Always look at it before, though, so it’s fresh.”

Not only do the scholars put a lot of time into the Spelling Bee, but so do the judges and pronouncers.

“To be a pronouncer, I learned the phonetic alphabet and reviewed all of the words,” Sam Bishop said. “But the list used for the majority of the bee was different since we went off book and it wasn’t what I was prepared for.”

For the three winning scholars, this spelling bee wasn’t their first to participate in or win. This was Kate Bishop’s second time to win, Prabhudesai’s third time to place and Willis had been doing them since third grade.

“I honestly didn’t think I would place. There was a lot of competition,” Prabhudesai said. “After we went off list, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.”

After going through so many spelling bees at different schools, the competition becomes quite familiar to some scholars. 

“I didn’t think I would get to the top three. I was thinking at least top 10, but this is a really smart school,” Kate Bishop said. To her, getting in the top three was an accomplishment all in itself.

This was Haas Hall Academy Fayetteville’s fifth annual spelling bee and, most likely, there will be more to come.

“It was great to watch so many rounds, to know they were actually getting all of the words,” Sam Bishop said. “To have my sister win was also pretty great.”

Photo by CAMPBELL ROGERSON
From left, seventh-graders Brenda Willis, Sohan Prabhudesai and Kate Bishop compete in the fifth annual Haas Hall Academy Fayetteville Spelling Bee on Nov. 17.
Photo by CHARLIE HUNTER
Senior Martina Thomas, right, hugs Kate Bishop after her win.