Sam Fetters wins Martha's Vineyard Scripps Spelling Bee

The West Tisbury School sixth-grader spelled his way to a place at the national competition in May and a trip to Washington, D.C.


With a smile on his face and speaking in a clear, strong voice without hesitation, Samuel (Sam) Fetters, a sixth-grader at West Tisbury School, correctly spelled the word “curriculum” to win the Martha’s Vineyard Schools Spelling Bee on Friday morning. The Island champion is eligible to compete in the 89th Scripps National Spelling Bee in the Washington, D.C., area the week of May 22.

Sam clinched his win in the tenth round of the annual Island Bee held in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center before a large crowd of students, teachers, family and friends. This was the 25th year The Martha’s Vineyard Times, which also picks up the cost of the Washington trip, has sponsored the event  

Sam and the other five students on stage, representing the five Island elementary schools and Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, earned a place at the regional Spelling Bee by winning competitions in their schools held for students in grades four through eight.

The outstanding Island spellers included Julia Gomes (Edgartown School, grade 8); Clyde Smith (Chilmark School, grade 5); Alex Turner (Oak Bluffs School, grade 4); and returning school bee winners from last year Owen Favreau (Charter School, grade 8) and Lily Sebastian (Tisbury School, grade 6).

Alex, the youngest in the group, made it to round eight with Owen and Sam. She was knocked out of the running by the word “tatami,” defined as “straw matting used as a floor covering in a Japanese home.”

Owen went another round against Sam, but he was felled by the word “vivisection.” Sam correctly spelled “folksiness,” and then clinched victory as the lone speller in round 10 when he correctly spelled “curriculum.”

There were 38 words used in the 10 rounds. Others that sidelined contestants included worrisome, whirlpool, and candidate. The words were selected from a list of 300 included in the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s official study booklet for school spelling champions.

Longstanding Spelling Bee coordinator Jean Holenko, a math teacher at Oak Bluffs School, welcomed proud family members and students from each of the Island schools to the event and explained the rules. Martha’s Vineyard Times editor Nelson Sigelman served as the pronouncer. Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools superintendent Matthew D’Andrea and Martha’s Vineyard Times reporter Janet Hefler were judges.

In speaking with The Times afterwards, Sam said he had studied word lists to prepare and felt that he might have a shot at winning the Island bee. His mom, Kim Leaird, and his grandparents, Kay and John Leaird of West Tisbury, were there to cheer him on.

“I had two wonderful coaches, my mom and one of my old teachers, Peter Forrester,” Sam said. “We had word lists that included words from Latin, Arabic, French, Slavic, and German. They would give me a word, and I’d spell it.” Mr. Forrester teaches fifth-grade English Language Arts and social studies.

Sam said although he has a little interest in language arts, he really likes to study history, enough so that he reads history encyclopedias as a hobby. He also enjoys playing electronic strategy games.

“Sam has another special skill,” West Tisbury School principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, who was standing nearby, reminded him.

“Map making, by hand,” Sam said.

“He can draw out the world and label all the countries, without looking at anything,” Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said. “This is an amazing skill. If you want to learn anything about geography, he’s your guy.”

Sam said that although he has visited Washington, D.C., before, he is excited about making another trip to the area to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The event will be held during Bee Week, May 22-27, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., along the shores of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.

The Times underwrites the trip to the national bee for the champion and a chaperone, as well as the cost of the school bees. All of the regional Spelling Bee contestants received certificates and a gift card to the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. Sam also received a new Webster’s dictionary.

School bee coordinators included Pam Echlin, Charter School; Jackie Guzalak, Chilmark; Erin Simmons, Edgartown; Ms. Holenko, Oak Bluffs; Emily Levett, Tisbury; and Skye Sonneborn, West Tisbury.