By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Sleeping in and Saturday cartoons were probably far from the minds of 19 local students who competed at this weekend’s 12th annual regional spelling bee. And while Buddy Noorlander of Oneonta Middle School was the day’s big winner, parents, teachers and organizers said it was a rewarding experience for all of the participants.
The contest, sponsored by the Otis A. Thompson Foundation, Amphenol Corp., SUNY Oneonta, the SUNY Oneonta Science Discovery Center and The Daily Star, began at 10 a.m. Saturday. As the 19 middle-schoolers took the stage in SUNY Oneonta’s Goodrich Theatre to show off their spelling skills through 11 intense rounds, many in the audience, who came from Delaware, Otsego, Chenango and Madison counties, spoke about the positive experience that the bee provided.
Emily Brown, who made it to the fifth round, was cheered on from the front row by her aunt Amy Brown. Emily had been nervous on the ride to Oneonta, Brown said, so she reinforced to the Downsville Central School seventh-grader how exciting it was to have made it this far.
“I told her she’s already a superstar! This has given her a broader understanding of spelling,” Brown said, “but it has just been an overall good experience for her and good practice public speaking. I’ve noticed a change in her confidence.”
This observation rings true for other participants as well, who each won their respective school’s competition, said Stacie Haynes, DCMO BOCES enrichment coordinator. Haynes, who organized the spelling bee, said it provides an opportunity for students to shine academically, while allowing them to work on their confidence and public speaking skills.
“It’s something positive to focus on and work for,” Haynes said.
Afton Central School’s Calixta Terrell, a seventh-grader, said she knows how to spell “a lot more words” than she did when she first started preparing. Terrell was one of three students who battled it out near the end of the competition, during which her spelling of “Islamic” and “hustings” helped her hang on to the eighth round.
Terrell said she thought the experience was fun, but challenging.
“I was comfortable at the beginning and not too nervous,” Terrell said, “but then the words got tougher quickly.”
Terrell’s parents, Carolina and Michael Terrell, expressed great pride after the competition.
“She did a great job and she’s still a winner,” Carolina Terrell said. “We’re proud of her no matter what.”
Oneonta’s own Buddy Noorlander, an eighth-grader, said it felt “good” to win, although he was hoping that his younger sister, Mary, could have made it to the regional bee instead of him.
“We’re competitive,” Noorlander said, “so we both entered. I beat her, but I actually wanted her to win.”
Noorlander, who casually tapped his hands against his blue jeans while breezing through words like “discipline,” “malaria,” “graffiti,” “herbivore” and “wiseacre,” , wasn’t planning on entering, according to his father, Danny Noorlander. Noorlander, a history professor at SUNY Oneonta, said Buddy was recruited a couple days before Oneonta’s school-wide bee because of a lack of participation.
“His sister, Mary, is in sixth grade,” Noorlander said, “and she actually prepared a lot more than Buddy did. I guess being such a big reader has helped him learn to figure out how to spell things.”
Winner Buddy Noorlander, who narrowly outlasted Edmeston Central School’s Alexander Babbie, said he thought the words at the end of the competition were tough. The winning word was “automaton,” meaning a self-operating machine, and Noorlander spelled it with ease.
After pausing to replay the recording of Noorlander’s spelling to make sure there were no mistakes, judges announced that he was the winner. When The Daily Star’s publisher Mitchell Lynch, who hosted the spelling bee, asked him what most excited him about his prize, an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Noorlander replied, “The hotel!”
Joseph Yelich, superintendent of the Oneonta City School District, called Buddy’s win a “tremendous accomplishment,” noting the amount of effort and time that goes into preparation. Besides the obvious takeaway of learning how to spell, Yelich said, the experience provides children with the opportunity to grow as a person.
“It stretches a person’s comfort zone,” Yelich said. “This shows a willingness to challenge oneself. They are displaying what they know in a very competitive circumstance. Learning how to handle that level of pressure will help them all throughout their lives.”
Noorlander said his love of reading was his main preparation for the bee. His father said he hopes Buddy’s regional win will “light a fire underneath him” and inspire him to prepare for the National Spelling Bee in Maryland, to be held May 25-31.
“But,” Noorlander said, “I just hope he has a good time.”