Just forget about March Madness for a minute.
Like a thrilling basketball game between rivals going down to the wire, the 42nd annual Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee did not disappoint.
What began with 18 talented area students competing before a large, captivated audience, turned into a fight to the finish between two eighth graders. East Grand Rapids’ Jack Lado and Kentwood’s Danny Pellerito masterfully traded words for 14 rounds at the end of the evening to determine a winner Tuesday evening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
The final pair rotated many words, including affability and histoplasmosis to energumen and adiabatic, before returning champion Lado finally got the nod by spelling parsec correctly. The crown earned him another trip for two to the Scripps National Spelling Bee from May 26 to June 1 in Washington, D.C.
He also won a $200 cash card from Old National Bank, a Samuel Louis Sugarman Award (2019 United States Mint Proof Set), a one year subscription to Britannica Online Premium and a Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online Certificate.
“I was a little bit nervous, but knew I could do it if I just stayed confident,” said Lado, age 14. “To study, recently I’ve been using an online website called SpellPundit. It has really helped me. It helped me with the word arepas which I wouldn’t have known.”
Lado said his taste for spelling bees came in the fourth grade. “I won the school bee then and it kind of blossomed from there,” said Lado, who enjoys playing basketball. “It’s definitely easier now than it was a few years ago.”
“My goal is to do the best that I can and make the semifinals this year.”
Lado’s mom, Jennifer Pankratz, watched the back and forth near the end with bated breath. “I think it’s almost more nerve-wracking watching in the audience,” Pankratz said.
“Danny gave him a big run for his money. It was very nerve-wracking. He thinks about spelling quite a bit; practices about several hours a day.”
“There are so many other talented people up there, it was real fortunate that he was able to come through,” his dad, Derek Lado, said. “I’m proud of all those kids up there. They’re all really intelligent kids.”
Pellerito, from Crestwood Middle School, won a $150 cash card from Old National Bank and a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, also had his sights on the title.
“I was hoping I was going to win, but I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know the competition here,” said Pellerito, who won his first spelling bee at age 10.
What will he spend his cash card on?
“I’m not sure yet, but I hope it’s something good.
Third-place finisher Blake Bouwman (eighth grader at Excel Charter Academy) competed in his fifth-straight Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee and won a $100 cash card from Old National Bank. Sixth-place finisher Rachael Yeager (7th grader at Forest Hills Central Middle School) was at her second final.
Students reach the Greater GR Spelling Bee by winning or placing second at their school bee, and then winning a regional bee.
More exciting and more competitive
Sister Rosemary Smith, a current judge and one of the founders of the area spelling bee, said it began as a competition between Grand Rapids Public Schools, Catholic Schools and Christian Schools.
“We wanted an alternative for students who weren’t into athletics or other events so they’d have an outlet for their talents,” said Smith, a retired principal of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Belmont. “I think it’s just a neat, neat experience. Every year the Bee is more exciting, more sophisticated and more competitive…and kids are much more serious.”
Mary Nell Baldwin, Spelling Bee Coordinator for Kent ISD, said the students get better every year. “It is rare not to have two or three spellers ‘dueling’ at the end,” said Baldwin, a professional development consultant at Kent ISD.
“This is the first time in the years I have been involved that we have returned a speller to the National Spelling Bee, although several have come close in recent years. It will be fun to follow Jack’s progress.”