Sam Fetters wins the Martha’s Vineyard Schools Spelling Bee with ‘pinafore’

West Tisbury School seventh grader wins all-Island spelling bee for the second year in a row.


Updated March 22, 2:40 pm

West Tisbury School seventh grader Sam Fetters won the annual Martha’s Vineyard Schools Spelling Bee for the second year in a row Friday morning. Sam’s winning word was “pinafore.” Last year Sam won the top prize after successfully spelling “curriculum.” This was the 26th annual Island-wide spelling bee sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

Wearing a bright red shirt, his favorite color, Sam said afterward that his win was unexpected. “It was a surprise,” Sam said; “everyone is so amazing!”

All of the students who competed spoke loud and clear as they spelled their words, having already won their school-wide spelling bees. Five students joined Sam on the stage at the Performing Arts Center at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, representing all the Island schools: fourth grader Volkert Kleeman from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, sixth grader Mateo Darack from the Tisbury School, fifth grader Kestutis Biskis from the Chilmark School, sixth grader Hannah Murphy from Oak Bluffs School, and eighth grader Avery Simmons from Edgartown School.

The competitors trickled into the PAC early. Volkert was one of the first to arrive with his mom, Lindsay Russo. He was wearing a green bowtie, fitting for St. Patrick’s Day.

“It’s his special-event bowtie,” Ms. Russo said.

Volkert did a few laps up and down the steps inside the PAC as a warmup to the competition. And since some of them were a little nervous, Sam had a few words of advice for his fellow spellers.

“Just stay very calm,” he told them. “Even if you’re nervous and just pretend to be calm, you’ll stay calm.”

Each participant had to face stiff competition at his or her home school before arriving at the Island-wide spelling bee. Sam got a run for his money before he took the stage for this year’s Island-wide competition on Friday morning.

At the West Tisbury School’s Feb. 14 spelling bee, he was neck and neck with classmate Ingrid Moore. Spelling bee organizer and sixth grade ELA teacher Skye Sonneborn said the competition at the West Tisbury School was intense.

“After 14 rounds with the other nine kids, it was down to Sam and Ingrid, and they went another 26 rounds together,” Ms. Sonneborn said. The match continued with words like “phrenologists,” “castellated,” “moiety,” and “prestidigitation” to keep the two going. Sam finally won with the word “flammable.”

Mateo Darak said he didn’t realize he was the winner of his school’s spelling bee at first. “I was the runner-up last year,” Mateo said. “This year I studied a lot with my mom and dad and my grandparents. Basically, I got better each year.”

Chilmark School’s Kestutis Biskis won his school spelling bee with “caterpillar,” and said he was more “nervous than excited” about Friday’s competition.

Hannah Murphy from Oak Bluffs School won her school spelling bee with the word “nautilus,” and Avery Simmons took the Edgartown School honors with “platoon.” Both students made it to round eight in Friday’s spelling bee. Avery was the last to be eliminated, getting hung up on the word “contiguous.”

Times writer Holly Nadler pronounced the words for the students, and School Superintendent Matt D’Andrea and Times copy editor Barbara Davis served as judges. Longtime spelling bee coordinator Jean Holenko, a fifth grade math teacher at Oak Bluffs School, welcomed the spellers and explained the rules.

“The final-round winner will travel to D.C. the week of May 28,” Ms. Holenko told the students as the spelling bee got underway.

Sam and his mom, Kim Leaird, will be heading to Washington, D.C., where Sam will compete in the national spelling bee for the second year in a row. The Times will also sponsor Sam’s trip to the capitol. Sam’s grandmother, Pam Turner, lives in Silver Springs, Md., and accompanied him last year. She was on hand to watch Sam clinch the title at the PAC this year.

“It was wonderful, just wonderful,” she said.

Sam said what he’s looking forward to most about heading to D.C. in May is meeting new people.

“People come from all over the world, and I can’t wait to meet new people,” Sam said. “Last year there were people who came from Europe and Japan.”

Sam gets help studying from his fifth grade teacher, Peter Forrester, and from his mom. He said he’ll be studying root words to prepare for the national spelling bee.

“Me and my mom have a saying, ‘You can’t know every word in the English language, but you can know the root words,’” Sam said.