ROCHESTER — In the end, the word “ticklish” proved a bit, well, ticklish to spell.
But for Bennie Barrow, a sixth-grader at St. John the Evangelist School in Spencerport, the word helped him spell success.
During Round 26 of the 25th-annual Catholic Schools Week Invitational Spelling Bee Feb. 4 at St. Boniface School, Bennie correctly spelled ticklish, giving him a shot at the final word of the bee.
His next word? Multiplication.
Eleven-year-old Bennie, living up to his baseball nickname of “Cool Hand Luke” because he doesn’t get nervous, spelled the word with ease, winning the competition and bringing audience members to their feet in an ovation.
Bennie outlasted 22 other fifth- and sixth-grade competitors during the bee, earning a trophy and a $100 savings bond provided by the St. Boniface Men’s Club. Runner-up Julia Nugent also received a trophy and a savings bond.
Bennie said none of the words he spelled — including percentage, anniversary, somersault, mansion, signature, reign, guarantee and marathon — were enough to trip him up.
“I thought they were all easy,” he said. “I wasn’t really scared because I was in it last year.”
Contestants were given a word list to study prior to the competition. Bennie said he studied his list with his father’s help, and he highlighted any words he didn’t know.
“I knew he’d do well, and he did exactly what I expected,” said his father, Ben Barrow.
Bennie’s competition was stiff, as competitors spelled their way through such tricky words as mayonnaise, neighboring, forbidden, knapsack, accumulate, encyclopedia, hygiene, loveliness, gallop, taxis, parallel, temperate, biscuit, lieutenant, unnecessary, acquaint, boulevard, gorgeous and escapade.
However, the words mongrel, innumerable, barnacle, vulgar, necessary, barrette, admission, handkerchief, volcano, refrigerator, nuisance and baritone were among those that proved too difficult for some competitors. One speller earned a round of applause from the audience when he was reinstated after giving the alternate spelling of catalog, instead of catalogue.
St. Boniface Principal Sister Mary Smith congratulated all the competitors for making it to the invitational bee.
“I just told them I admired them so much because I can’t spell,” she joked prior to the bee.
Sister Smith noted that the bee was being held at St. Boniface for the final time, since the school is slated to close at the end of the year.
“It’s kind of a mixed emotion because we won’t have a 26th (at the school),” Sister Smith said.
Patricia Jones, assistant superintendent for the diocesan WIN Program who pronounced words for competitors, commended Sister Smith, a 51-year Catholic-schools educator, for her support of the bee and her students.
“She’s encouraged them, mentored them and loved them,” Jones said.
Jones also gave credit to all the participants.
“It is very nerve-wracking, and they did a wonderful job,” she said.
Javier Perez, a sixth-grader at St. Joseph School in Penfield, said he was nervous when he became one of the final three contestants.
“I thought, ‘If I get this right, I could have a chance to win,’” Javier said. “There was a lot of pressure.”
He said he dealt with that pressure by talking himself through each word.
Sixth-grader Rachel Mason of Good Shepherd School in Henrietta, who lasted into the 15th round, had a different technique for controlling nerves. She ignored the audience.
“I just breathed, and I tried not to look at the audience,” Rachel said.
She also had a secret: She kept a dove pendant signifying the Holy Spirit close to her heart.
Allison Maier, a sixth-grader at St. Margaret Mary School in Irondequoit, said she tried to stand up straight to make it look like she was not nervous. She also noted that she found some of the words hard and others easy.
“If you really studied, you knew all of them, because she (her teacher) gave us a sheet to study,” Allison said.
Sachelle Bolt, a sixth-grader at Holy Family School who lasted into the 14th round, said he didn’t really study for the bee.
“Those were just words I knew,” Sachelle said. “I knew most of the words in the spelling bee.”
In addition to Bennie, Javier, Rachel, Allison and Sachelle, the bee participants were: Phoebe Conley of Cathedral School at Holy Rosary; Taylor Herlehy of Christ the King School, Irondequoit; Cayla Facey of Corpus Christi at Blessed Sacrament; George Havens of Holy Cross School, Charlotte; Michaela Meissner of Holy Trinity School, Webster; Olivia Culbertson of Our Mother of Sorrows School, Greece; Adrianna Webbe of Nazareth Hall Elementary School; Christopher Mark of St. Andrew School; Julia Nguyen of St. Boniface; Nicholas Lugo-Himler of St. John Neumann School; Christine Schmitt of St. John of Rochester School, Fairport; Michael Cattalani from St. Lawrence School, Greece; Christopher Hanna from St. Louis School, Pittsford; Alexander Gilges from St. Mary School, Canandaigua; Amy Do from St. Monica School; Marty Allocco from St. Pius Tenth School, Chili; Iain Higgins from St. Rita School, Webster; and Gretchen Brooker from Seton Catholic School, Brighton.
Judges were Ann Marie Deutsch, principal of St. Mary School in Canandaigua, and Lori Atwell, a teacher at St. Monica School.