Edgartown sixth-grader Alexis Condon wins Island spelling bee

Lots of support boosted Alexis Condon, who won The Martha's Vineyard Times sponsored Island Spelling Bee Friday morning. outspelling six competitors. After the win, Alexis joined her mother, Carlene Gatting, who displays a sign made by Alexis's twin sister, Mackenzie. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Alexis Condon, a sixth-grader at the Edgartown School, captured the Martha’s Vineyard Schools Spelling Bee after a fast-paced and tension-filled competition on Friday morning, March 22.

Alexis correctly spelled the word “lithe” in the seventh round of the 22nd annual Island Bee, sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Times and held at the regional high school’s Performing Arts Center.

Alexis and six other spellers from the five Island elementary schools, the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, and the home school community earned a place at the regional Spelling Bee following competitions for students in grades four through eight.

The other Island spellers who competed were eighth-grader Simone Vega from the Charter School, fifth-grader Dash Christy from Chilmark, seventh-grader Harrison Dorr from Oak Bluffs, eighth-grader James “Jimmy” Perez from Tisbury, and seventh-grader Nic Andre from West Tisbury.

Getting the last word

Eighth-grader Savanna Aiello represented the home school community. She and Alexis were the returning veterans among the spellers, having participated in last year’s regional competition.

Dash, Jimmy, and Simone hung in with Alexis into the sixth round, where they were felled by the words “spherical,” “pinafore”, and “animosity,” respectively. Alexis was the last speller left standing by correctly spelling “mizzle,” and she cinched her win by spelling one more word correctly in round seven.

Among 37 words in 7 rounds, others that knocked contestants out of the running included “crimson,” “simile,” and “gristle.”

Jean Holenko of the Oak Bluffs School was the Bee coordinator. MV Times proofreader Whit Griswold was the pronouncer. Judges were James Weiss, superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, and Times reporter Janet Hefler. Times editor Doug Cabral congratulated the spellers and presented them with certificates and prizes.

School bee coordinators were Treather Gassmann, Charter School; Jackie Guzalak, Chilmark; Erin Simmons, Edgartown; Ms. Holenko, Oak Bluffs; Janet Stiller, Tisbury; and Skye Sonneborn, West Tisbury.

“The 22nd annual spelling bee was a thrill to participate in and watch,” Mr. Weiss said in a comment emailed in response to a request from The Times this week. “What great spellers we have on the Vineyard. Congrats to all the participants.”

Hard work and luck charms

At age 11, Alexis was one of the younger contestants. Based on her previous experience in the 2012 Island Bee, she told The Times in a phone call this week, “I thought I would be more used to it, but I was just as nervous as last year.”

The spellers’ family members and fellow students, many of whom were bused from their schools to attend the Bee, were an enthusiastic and supportive audience. Alexis said the sight of her twin sister Mackenzie and her Edgartown School classmates walking into the auditorium helped calm her nerves.

“I don’t know what I would have done if they couldn’t come,” she said.

Alexis explained that she felt added pressure because she has been accepted to Falmouth Academy and may be attending school there next year.

“It’s been my goal for a long time to win the Island Spelling Bee, so I thought if didn’t win it this year, I probably wouldn’t get another chance,” she said.

Alexis described herself as “kind of surprised” when she realized she had won. To prepare, she said about two weeks before the Island Spelling Bee, she studied practice word lists with her mother, Carlene Gatting.

“Please put in a lot of thanks for my mom, because she’s done so much for me, and she’s the reason I did so well,” Alexis said.

She also watched a few YouTube videos that featured national spelling bee contestants. One winner mentioned she used Word Club, an online subscription study resource offered on the Scripps National Spelling Bee website, to help her prepare.

“I got on the website a week before the Island Spelling Bee,” Alexis said. “It said the words out loud, so I knew how words were pronounced, which really helped.”

She also credits part of her success to her lucky sweater that she has worn in previous spelling bees she won. Also, although Alexis was number five in the bee line-up, she said her sister wrote her lucky number, six, on the bottom of the sign she wore in the contest.

On to the National Bee

As the Island’s winner, Alexis will move on to compete in the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee. The event will be held during Bee Week, May 26 through May 31, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland, along the shores of the Potomac River, near Washington, D.C. The championship finals take place from 8 to 10 pm on Thursday, May 30, and will be broadcast on ESPN.

The Times’ Bee sponsorship includes underwriting a trip to the national Bee for the champion and a chaperone, as well as the cost of the school bees. Alexis’s mother, sister, and dad, Fred Condon, will join her on the trip.

Before then, Alexis said, “I might just study root words, and suffixes and prefixes, to get a sense so I’m prepared.” She said one of her former teachers told her that some of the National Spelling Bee contestants study word lists for hours a day and months at a time, so she doesn’t have a high expectation about winning.

“Maybe my lucky sweater will help me out,” Alexis added with a laugh.