West Salem student wins citywide annual spelling bee

Photo by Shawn Nowlin
Left to right: Iliana Martinez, South Salem pupil, district alternate speller; Chance Long, G.W. Carver pupil, fifth-place finish; Aidan Poush, Andrew Lewis Middle School pupil, third-place finish; Addy Funk, East Salem pupil, fourth place finish; and T.J. Fisher, West Salem pupil, district winner.

Bungalow is a word that most people will never use, much less have to spell in their lifetime. Addy Funk, an East Salem Elementary student, was given that word during last Friday’s City of Salem Annual Spelling Bee.

The nearly 75-minute competition took place inside the Salem School Division Administration Building. This year’s spelling bee consisted of five pupils: Funk, East Salem Elementary; T.J. Fisher, West Salem Elementary; Aidan Poush, Andrew Lewis Middle School; Chance Long, George Washington Carver; and South Salem fifth-grader Iliana Martinez.

Beverly Nicely has worked as Salem City School’s district spelling bee coordinator for the past three years. She, along with Chris Taibbi, served as judges on February 2. Curtis Hicks, Salem City Schools Assistant Superintendent, performed the role of word pronouncer.

“Students who are avid readers are often the best spellers since they see written words more often than those who don’t read as much,” Beverly said. “Of course, there are many other factors that can impact the results of a spelling bee, one of which is just the luck of which word is called.”

After each participant correctly spelled their first word, the second round began. Aidan Poush correctly spelled tycoon – a wealthy, influential person in business or industry – in the sixth round. He was eliminated, however, in the next round after misspelling gunnysack – a sack made of gunny or burlap.

Some students closed their eyes to spell certain words, while others counted on their fingers. When the ninth round started, only two students remained – T.J. Fisher and Iliana Martinez.

After correctly spelling decoy, Iliana misspelled her next word – talc. Immediately after that, T.J. stepped to the microphone. He took a deep breath before addressing the judges. “I would like to have the definition of that word please,” he said before wiping his forehead. “F-u-t-o-n.”

Theodore Fisher, T.J’s father, was not surprised that his son correctly spelled his last word. “T.J. studied a lot on his own after school, and I would quiz him when I got home from work,” he said. “He really wanted to learn the words, and it turned into a relationship-building experience for us.”

T.J. will represent Salem City Schools at the Southwest Virginia Regional Spelling Bee on March 10. Iliana will serve as the district alternate speller.

Even though he didn’t come in first place, Kristie Chittum said she couldn’t be prouder of her son. “Chance is a very bright child, and it was nice to see him be recognized for his hard work and talent,” she said. “Events like this give him the confidence to stand in front of people and speak. It also shows him that hard work has its rewards.”

Curtis Hicks also believes that participating in a spelling bee can be a character building experience that teaches a child self-discipline and how to deal with adversity. “Students have to have the confidence necessary to put themselves out there, and they have to be willing to fail in front of an audience without making excuses,” he said. “These are all characteristics of good leaders.”