From left, Spelling bee team members Ben Brady, 10, Sarah Annis, 10, Julia Belyung, 11, Malcolm Toleno, 11 and Sevi­ah Cepeda, 11, sit in the library at
From left, Spelling bee team members Ben Brady, 10, Sarah Annis, 10, Julia Belyung, 11, Malcolm Toleno, 11 and Sevi­ah Cepeda, 11, sit in the library at Green Street School in Brattleboro. The group of fifth- and sixth-grade students won the Vermont State Spelling Bee Championship. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Tuesday November 27, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Malcolm Toleno, a sixth-grade student at Green Street School, had high expectations going into this year's state spelling bee.

Toleno was on the team last year when the Green Street team tied for second in the state.

After beating Newbrook Elementary School, the 2011 State Champions, in this year's regional spelling bee, he said the team was primed to go deep into the race at the annual spelling bee which was held at Northfield High School on Nov. 17.

And at the end of the competition Green Street walked away champions, taking first place in the fifth/sixth-grade level.

"We knew that we beat the best spellers in the state and we felt like we needed to win," Toleno said. "I was nervous. There was so much pressure on us. It felt good to win."

The Green Street 5/6 grade beat out the best spellers in the state during what Toleno said was a sometimes tense competition. Toleno even said the pressure got to him a little after he made a mistake while spelling "absorption," putting a "b" in the word though he knew there was a "p."

The other returning sixth-graders on this year's team included Seviah Cepeda and Julia Belyung, and the fifth-grade champion spellers were Ben Brady and Sarah Annis.

Annis said the state competition was nerve racking.

The team from Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School went ahead after the eighth round, but in the following rounds the Tuttle team faltered a little while the Green Street team finished strongly.

By the 12th, and final round, Green Street was far enough ahead that even if they missed a word or two their lead at the time would have protected a win.

"I was counting in my head," Annis said. "They missed a bonus word and I knew we had the lead."

Alice Charkes, who coached the Green Street School Spelling Team, said the team was feeling good going into the state tournament. Three of her spellers from last year were back and she also said the regional competition tested their toughness.

"I knew we had some strong spellers and I thought we had a chance to win. Once we beat the state champs we knew we were on a roll," Charkes said. "We got close last year, and we had the experience. They were really fantastic when it got to the state level."

Charkes coached the team twice a week, using the provided list of 600 words which the judges use and randomly select from during the competition.

And even though Charkes said she felt good about the team going into the state competition, when matched up against the best spellers in the state there is little room for error.

The students cannot go back and make a change once a mistake is said out loud, and the tension increases as the students go deeper into the competition.

Some of the tougher words in the later rounds included "discrepancy," "ballast," "amenable" and "dissident."

"There's a lot of pressure when you go up there," said Charkes. "It's wonderful that kids get to show their excellence in something that is academic. Everyone at school is very proud of what the kids were able to do."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com.