Louisiana White wins Islandwide spelling bee

After 10-round back and forth between finalists, winning word is ‘plateau.'


After 17 rounds of $100 words like zenith, diatribe, greengage, and bequeath, sixth grader Louisiana White of the Tisbury School emerged victorious in the Islandwide spelling bee.

Sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Times publishers Barbara and Peter Oberfest, the Islandwide competition is hosted annually at the MVRHS Performing Arts Center, and includes spellers from all of the Island elementary schools.

Before the bee, fourth grade West Tisbury School student Story Taylor, the youngest speller in the competition, said she was a mix of nervous and excited, for which she coined “nervousited.”

She said she has been waking up at 5 am every day to study her Scripps “spell it word list,” which contains over 1,000 words for students to reference.

“My nickname in school is ‘Dictionary,’” Story said as she giggled.

Story’s mother, Oak Bluffs School teacher Carrie Fyler, said she loves watching her daughter compete, and has the utmost confidence that she will always give 100 percent.

Times proofreader Barbara Davis served as the pronouncer for the bee, and Superintendent Matt D’Andrea and Times Calendar and Community Editor Connie Berry judged the competition.

Coordinator and Oak Bluffs School teacher Jean Holenko kicked off the competition by laying out the rules and congratulating spellers for their accomplishments. She also thanked The MV Times’ Jennifer Crawford for her help in organizing the bee.

And with that, the spellers took the stage at around 9:45 am. Louisiana aced her first word, “barley.” Volkert Kleeman, a sixth grader from Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, gave it his all in his spelling of the word “reckless,” but was incorrect.

Clarissa Pinto, a seventh grader from the Edgartown School, got tripped up on the word, derived from Japanese, “honcho” in the second round, dropping the number of contestants from six to four.

After each student spelled a word correctly, friends, family, and classmates celebrated quietly in the audience. Parents watched intently as each student stood confidently in front of the microphone and wrote his or her word on a small whiteboard.

During the fourth round of the competition, Louisiana spelled the word “zenith,” which she said was the hardest word she spelled all morning.

Cian Davis, a fifth grader from the Chilmark School, spelled the word “vanilla” with ease, but was ousted by the word “electoral.”

With only three spellers remaining in the fifth round, things started to heat up as eighth grader Hannah Murphy easily spelled “behest,” but tripped on the word “nosh” in the sixth round.

Only two spellers remained in the competition; Louisiana and Story.

The two girls battled it out for 10 rounds, all the while remaining calm, cool, and collected.

Story showed her spelling prowess with words like “jovial,” “predicate,” and “geothermal”; Louisiana went all in with her words “falsetto,” “animosity,” and “herbivore.”

After 10 rounds of intense back and forth between the two spellers, Story was sidelined by the word “clapboard,” leaving it up to Louisiana to get her word right.

After writing her word “plateau” down on the whiteboard, Louisiana spelled it perfectly, and became the Islandwide spelling bee champion.

Everyone at the bee was a good sport, and enjoyed a morning of friendly competition.

Louisiana’s family was all smiles after seeing her walk off the stage.

“It makes me a little nervous to watch her spell, but she is a great speller and is always very calm during competitions,” Louisiana’s grandmother, Kitty White, said. “She is always so confident.”

Louisiana’s father, Will White, said he is “very proud” of his daughter, and is excited to go to Washington, D.C., to see her compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 27.

“She studied long and hard, and really gave it her all,” White said.

Louisiana said she is excited to go to D.C., and is happy that her long hours of studying her “spell it” list paid off: “’Zenith’ was definitely my hardest word because I didn’t know if it was spelled with an ‘e’ or a ‘y.’”

Holenko said she loves seeing the kids up on stage smiling during the competition, and being brave and confident the entire time.

“These kids are doing what most adults wouldn’t think of doing — it really is a big thing for them,” Holenko said.

She also described the energy in the audience as kids cheered on their classmates.

“It is so great to see the students in the audience react to their friends when they are spelling, they are all really supportive,” Holenko said.

After Louisiana and her family left the high school, they were already talking about their trip to D.C., and Story and her family were already looking forward to next year’s bee.

“I’m going to study really hard for next year, and I’m gonna win,” Story said.