Canandaigua student spells his way into bee's final rounds - Catholic Courier

Canandaigua student spells his way into bee’s final rounds

Alex Gilges recently followed in the footsteps of one of his heroes, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and didn’t cave in under pressure.

Decked out in his Eli Manning jersey, the 11-year-old competed in the 25th-annual Catholic Schools Week Invitational Spelling Bee on Feb. 4, the day after the Giants beat the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Although Alex didn’t win the bee, he did a good job representing his school, St. Mary in Canandaigua, said principal Ann Marie Deutsch, who also was one of the spelling bee’s two judges.

As if that wasn’t enough pressure already, Alex’s father cut a business trip short and flew back home early when he learned his son would be representing St. Mary in the bee. He arrived home just in time to join the family for the event, said Alex’s mother, Liz Gilges. Although he didn’t want to let his family, principal and school community down, Alex said he didn’t let the pressure get to him.

“I just hoped I didn’t get out on the first word,” the sixth-grader told the Catholic Courier.

Alex didn’t misspell the first word. In fact, he made it to the final five rounds before he was finally eliminated from the bee. Before that, however, he successfully spelled such words as mayonnaise, stationery and language. Bennie Barrow, a sixth-grader from St. John the Evangelist School in Spencerport, made it through 26 rounds and won by correctly spelling the word “multiplication.”

Alex and Bennie were among the 23 fifth- and sixth-grade students who competed in the bee at St. Boniface School in Rochester. As spelling-bee champion, Bennie won a trophy and a $100 savings bond provided by the St. Boniface Men’s Club. Alex was the only competitor from a school outside Monroe County.

St. Mary School sends a representative to the spelling bee each year, Deutsch said. Alex was chosen to represent the school after he was crowned the best speller in the school’s fifth and sixth grades, she added.

“My teacher asked who wanted to be in the spelling bee at St. Boniface, and a couple kids said yes, including me. We just took a couple of tests of 40 questions each,” Alex explained.

When she learned her son would be competing in the spelling bee at St. Boniface, Gilges said she was proud of Alex but not necessarily surprised by his spelling prowess.

“He’s an avid reader, so it doesn’t quite surprise me,” she said. “I think he really enjoyed (the bee). I think he was very proud of himself.”

Alex agreed, noting that he was happy with his performance at St. Boniface and, if given the chance, he would gladly participate in another spelling bee.

“I just like spelling. It’s one of my favorite subjects,” he said.

Deutsch, who taught at St. Boniface before becoming principal at St. Mary, said she feels privileged to have been asked to judge the annual event for the last eight years.

“I enjoy watching it, and the judging part is kind of an honor,” she said.

Lori Atwell, a teacher at St. Monica School in Rochester, was the second judge, and Patricia Jones, assistant superintendent for the diocesan WIN Program, pronounced the words for the competitors.

“Sometimes when the children are spelling it’s not very audible to the pronouncer so we (the judges) have to make sure we hear the letters. We sit right in front of the spellers, so we’re down on the floor of the gym. We can see their lips move,” Deutsch said.

The judges also made sure the competitors adhered to the time limit of three minutes for each word. When asked whether she was particularly nervous each time Alex took the microphone, Deutsch said it was nerve-wracking each time she watched a student spell, no matter which school he or she was representing.

“They’re children, and you know what it’s like to be on the spot. You just feel so bad if they make a mistake, and you know how much pressure they put on themselves,” Deutsch said. “Sometimes when they miss a word, it’s a word they know very well and they just (misspoke) a letter and they didn’t mean to say it, so you just feel for all of them.”

Deutsch said her school sends a representative to the bee each year because its important for children to be exposed to the world beyond the boundaries of their own schools.

“I think it’s good for them to compete like that so they do see students from other schools and see what other students can do. You know how competitive the world is. I think it prepares them a little bit for realizing that other people can do things really well, too,” she said.

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