Spellmaster Presides for 30th Year over Hotly Contested Spelling Bee

Over one hundred students in grades 4-9 gathered at the UCSC campus for the annual county-wide spelling bee.

Sofia Sorensen presents Board Recognition Award to Mardi Browning

This year’s event marked thirty years with Mardi Browning serving as spellmaster to the elementary division. Mardi took over the event in 1987 from Tom Honing, former editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel when he was unable to participate and, in her words “loved it so much I never gave it back.” Back in those days, the bee was an oral event which each student taking their turn on the stage to spell one word. At least one time, this led to a student collapsing from fatigue, according to Mardi’s memories. The county bee now is a written event. All students are given a list of approximately seventy words to spell and the winner is the one who spells the highest number of these correctly.

Mardi loves the spelling bee because she loves words. She “loves saying words, loves using words, loves thinking about the origins of words.” The community of Santa Cruz County is grateful that Mardi has been willing to devote so many years to serving as spellmaster, which entails both presiding over the event and also preparing the word list every year. Mardi says that she is amazed by the spelling talents of the elementary division students (grades 4-6) and always needs to include a few words from the upper division sample word lists to make sure there are enough challenging words. One word that she remembers stumping everyone is “antimacassar”, which readers of Victorian novels will remember is “a piece of cloth put over the back of a chair to protect it from grease and dirt or as an ornament.”

Her faith in the abilities of the Elementary Division was rewarded this year, as the first place winner, Judah Kim, a fifth grader at Ocean Grove Charter School had a perfect paper. Judah spelled words such as “pharmaceutical” and “apocryphal” correctly. There was an initial tie for second place, with three students having only one incorrectly spelled word out of 74. This necessitated a spell off. Tristan Torres, a sixth grader at Rio del Mar Elementary, placed second by correctly spelling “ambiance.” Second place secured, the spell off to decide third place continued between Zane Escoto, a sixth grader at Ocean Grove, who placed third last year, and Ella Webb, a fourth grader at Vine Hill Elementary School. By correctly spelling “inconspicuous”, Zane took home the third place trophy.

The Junior Division was also closely contested. Rina Rossi, a ninth grader at Pacific Collegiate School who last year placed third, this year took home the first place trophy and will represent Santa Cruz County at the state-level. Rina had only one incorrect word in a list of challenges such as “fructiferous” and “caterwaul.” In second place was Andrew Crabtree, a seventh grader from Ocean Grove Charter School, with only two errors. There was an initial tie for third place, with only three errors. J.J. Kim-Eubio, a seventh grader at Alianza Charter School and last year’s second-place winner of the Elementary Division, and Gunnika Kapoor, a seventh grader at Ocean Grove Charter School, battled it out in a spell-off. Gunnika eventually captured third place by correctly spelling “pneumococcal.”

The top two spellers from each division advance to the state-wide completion.

Kids with trophies at California State Elementary Spelling Bee
In photo, Judah Kim is second from left, and Tristan Torres fifth from the left.

Santa Cruz Spelling Bee Champions are State Finalists!

Santa Cruz County is doubly proud of its two county-wide spelling champions for the Elementary Division. Both Judah Kim, of Ocean Grove Charter School and Tristan Torres of Rio Del Mar Elementary were among the seven finalist at the state spelling bee held in Stockon, CA on Saturday, May 13, 2017. As finalists, they both received trophies and a Kindle Fire, courtesy of Teachers College of San Joaquin. Our congratulations to both of these stellar spellers!