Inspired. I-N-S-P-I-R-E-D. Inspired.

The students inspired the newspaper to support spelling bees in local schools.

Fourth-grader Louise Lyeth spells a word on Feb. 1 during the St. Bernard’s School spelling bee next to third-grade teacher Rebecca Eagle, who is the Spelling Bee Club coordinator. Louise came in first place. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

St. Bernard’s School third-grader Ryan Scollin climbed up on a step stool to reach the microphone on a tabletop podium in the cafeteria, where his teacher and principal were setting up for a spelling bee on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 1 in Saranac Lake. His job was to test the microphone, so he chose his own word.

“Underwear,” he said. “U-N-D-E-R-W-E-A-R. Underwear.”

Most students, teachers and parents hadn’t yet arrived, so only his teacher, principal and a handful of others heard the mic test. The word was not on Ryan’s list as he spelled his way to third place among 15 other students, spanning from first to fifth grades. In the ninth round, he spelled “enormous” incorrectly, prompting applause from the audience as he was dismissed. After all, he did his best and he had spelled eight words correctly: lizard, awful, breeze, nutmeg, padlock, liberty, impact and complete.

It took five more rounds — with the last being “sudden death” — to get a winner. A second-grade student faced off against a fourth-grade student for the title. In the 14th and final round, they were asked to spell “canal.” Only the fourth-grader spelled it correctly.

Second-grader Ella Bard spells a word on Feb. 1 during the St. Bernard’s School spelling bee next to third-grade teacher Rebecca Eagle, who is the Spelling Bee Club coordinator. Ella came in second place. (News photo — Andy Flynn)


We haven’t seen a lot of spelling bees in the Tri-Lakes Region of the Adirondack Park in many years, so we were intrigued when St. Bernard’s School third-grade teacher Rebecca Eagle contacted our editor/publisher prior to the Feb. 1 event. She and her students had toured the offices of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News in November and thought it would be a good idea for the newspapers to cover the spelling bee. Moreover, she asked if a reporter could return to the school and speak to the Newspaper Club in the coming weeks. We happily agreed to both.

After watching the 16 spellers compete, we were inspired to have our newspapers sponsor the school for next year’s spelling bee. It costs just under $200 for schools to join the Scripps National Spelling Bee program, and St. Bernard’s didn’t have the money in their budget this year, so they held their own instead of joining the nationwide competition. Next year, we’ll find a way to make sure they can cover the cost.

After looking into the Scripps National Spelling Bee program, we were further inspired to search for ways to support our local spelling bee programs, with the eventual goal of hosting regional Scripps National Spelling Bee competitions in the Tri-Lakes. The closest regional spelling bee location is in Watertown, about 125 miles (a two-and-a-half hour drive) away from our office in Saranac Lake.

Fourth-grader Louise Lyeth sits alone and listens to Ella spell the word “canal” incorrectly during the 14th round of the St. Bernard's School spelling bee in Saranac Lake on Feb. 1. Louise spelled it correctly and won the bee. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

The only problem is we need more local spelling bee programs in the Tri-Lakes. St. Bernard’s School is planning to enter next year, but what about other schools in the region? We encourage local school officials to begin the process to create their own spelling bee programs for the 2024-25 academic year and contact Editor/Publisher Andy Flynn by email at aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com so we can find ways to support these young spellers.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee program is open to students who have neither turned 16 years old nor passed beyond the eighth grade.

By our calculations, that means there are 13 schools — public and private — in our newspapers’ readership area.

– AuSable Valley Central School District: AuSable Forks Elementary School, AuSable Valley Middle School and Keeseville Elementary School

– Keene Central School

St. Bernard's School third-grader Ryan Scollin, flanked by third-grade teacher Rebecca Eagle, left, and Principal Andrea Kilbourne-Hill, tests the microphone prior to a spelling bee on Feb. 1. He finished in third place. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

– Lake Placid Central School District: Lake Placid Elementary School and Lake Placid Middle School

– St. Agnes School

– St. Bernard’s School

– Saranac Lake Central School District: Bloomingdale Elementary School, Petrova Elementary School and Petrova Middle School

– Tupper Lake Central School District: L.P. Quinn Elementary School and Tupper Lake Middle School

Judges for the St. Bernard’s School spelling bee on Feb. 1 in Saranac Lake pose before the competition. From left are the 2023 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival king and queen, Marty Rowly and Patti Ploof, and Father Martin Cline of St. Bernard’s Church. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Home school groups are also eligible to join. And if we became a regional Scripps partner, we could host competitions that include spelling bee winners from other North Country teams.

The Scripps spelling bee calendar looks like this:

– August: Spelling bee contacts at schools enroll with the Scripps National Spelling Bee (spellingbee.com).

– Fall: Educators administer classroom and school spelling bees. They have until the middle of January to name their school champion.

– February and March: School champions compete in regional spelling bees. Depending on the sponsorship level, regional partners can send between one and three regional champions to the nationals.

First-grader Anaya Babbie spells a word on Feb. 1 during the St. Bernard’s School spelling bee next to third-grade teacher Rebecca Eagle, who is the Spelling Bee Club coordinator. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

– May: Spellers arrive in the Washington, D.C. area to take part in Bee Week and compete to become the national champion during a televised live broadcast.

Spelling bee

We envision a time when a number of schools in Franklin, Essex, Clinton and Hamilton counties hold school spelling bees like the one at St. Bernard’s School, a private Catholic school.

At 1 p.m., 16 spellers were sitting in two rows of chairs, their backs to a wall where a small crucifix hung behind them. In front of them, the rest of the school’s students were sitting on the floor, facing them, in one of three styles: mermaid, criss-cross applesauce or mountain. Parents were sitting in chairs behind the students on the floor, facing the spellers. To the spellers’ right, there was a tabletop podium with a microphone and then the judges’ table.

Each student had a hand-written number on light blue paper hanging with string from their neck. When it was their turn to spell, they had to climb up a step stool to reach the microphone, and Mrs. Eagle stood to their left revealing the word they had to spell from the Scripps list in their grade level.

The students were: Isabel Bates-LaPierre and Anaya Babbie, grade 1; Piper Marlow, Lucy Leader, Ella King, Addie Czadzeck, Ty Figueroa-Brownell and Ella Bard, grade 2; Ryan Scollin, Brielle Nason, Isaac Leader and Ella Fitzgerald, grade 3; Louise Lyeth, Evelyn Hayes and Edith Fredenburg, grade 4; and Mark Fredenburg, grade 5.

The three judges sitting at their table were the 2023 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival king and queen — Marty Rowley and Patti Ploof — and Father Martin Cline of St. Bernard’s Church.

The spellers waited while Principal Andrea Kilbourne-Hill gave some instructions to the students on the floor:

“When Mrs. Eagle says a word for our spellers to spell, you might know how to spell that word. And if you know how to spell that word, you’ve got to keep it in your bubble, OK? … Next year, you can join the spelling bee, and you can spell it up here.”

Then Father Martin opened the event with a spelling bee prayer:

“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, we ask your blessings upon these young men and women who are spelling today. May you give them the gift of wisdom so that they may do their best for all those gathered today. We ask your blessings upon this event, and may you always help us to be joyful and cheering those who are so courageous before us. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

And Mrs. Eagle explained that all the spellers would be asked a word from their grade level list, except the first-graders.

“First-graders are actually doing a second-grade list,” she said, “so, way to go.”

This is how it worked. Mrs. Eagle announced the word, and the student said the word, spelled the word, and when they felt comfortable that they had spelled it correctly, they said the word again.

“For example,” she said, “if the word is ‘hat.’ They will say ‘hat’ and think about it and say ‘H-A-T-T. No. H-A-T. Hat.’ And then we will know they are confident, and it’s the end of their spell.”

The seventh speller — a second-grader — was asked to spell “radio.”

“The word is ‘radio.’ I turned on the radio to play a song. Radio,” Mrs. Eagle said.

“Radio,” the student said. “R-A-T-O. Ratio.”

Then there was applause from the crowd and a ding from the bell in front of the Winter Carnival queen. After almost every word was spelled, the students would look over at the queen to see if she would ding the bell.

After Round 1, there were nine spellers left. There were seven in Round 3, six in Round 4, five in Round 5, four in rounds 6 and 7 and three in rounds 8 and 9. In Round 10, the final two students squared off, with second-grader Ella Bard being asked the first word:

“The word is ‘cosmic.’ A lot of my students like to eat a cosmic brownie. Cosmic,” Mrs. Eagle said.

“Cosmic. C-O-S-M-I-C. Cosmic.”

Then fourth-grader Louise Lyeth went up to the podium.

“The word is ‘transporting.’ We were transporting or moving goods from one state to the other. Transporting. Transporting,” Mrs. Eagle said.

“Transporting. T-R-A-N-S-P-O-R-T-I-N-G. Transporting.”

The two students made it through the next three rounds with “shudder” and “receptions,” “bitter” and “cinders,” and “clasp” and “strident.”

In Round 14, Mrs. Eagle announced that it was sudden death, using words from the next-highest grade.

“The word is ‘canal.’ A long time ago, boats used to go down the Erie Canal. Canal,” Mrs. Eagle said.

“Canal. C-A-N.”

Ella stopped and asked Mrs. Eagle to say the word again.

“The word is ‘canal,’ which is a river, sorry, a waterway. So a long time ago, people used to ride boats down the Erie Canal. Canal.”

“Canal. C-O-U,” Ella said and stopped again.

“Canal,” Mrs. Eagle repeated.

“C-N-O-W? Canal?”

There was applause and a final ding from the bell.

“Canal,” Louise said quickly. “C-A-N-A-L. Canal.”

Knowing she’d won, Louise made a bee-line to her parents in the audience, where they shared hugs for a few minutes.

“OK. We have some amazing spellers,” Mrs. Eagle concluded before handing the winner a $50 gift card from Amazon.com, “to spend under the supervision of her parents, as she chooses.”

After an hour of competition, the spelling bee was over, the chairs were all put away, and school was dismissed.

Emotions, drama, lessons

You may have felt a little emotion while reading the description of the St. Bernard’s School spelling bee, happiness for Louise and sadness for the other 15 students. But it’s nothing compared to the stress of competition and the fear of hearing the ding of that dreaded bell.

We could only imagine what the parents felt, since we were on the edge of our seats ourselves while the students were spelling. Our hearts broke every time a student looked over to the queen, hoping she wouldn’t ding the bell, and when they didn’t spell a word correctly, we knew they would hear it. The queen even paused to make sure the bell had to be rung every time; there was no rush to potentially crush the spirit of a youngster.

On the other hand, we had big smiles on our faces when we knew students had spelled the words correctly. We were proud of them, maybe not as proud as their parents but definitely as proud as an aunt or an uncle.

We felt ourselves pulling for children we’ve never met before. We wanted them to succeed and knew that only one would be handed that Amazon gift card.

Sometimes, we’d be riding an emotional roller coaster. For example, one student spelled a word incorrectly (causing our hearts to sink), then correctly (making us smile), then changed her mind and spelled it incorrectly again.

We wanted to scream, “Nooo!” But we could only sit there silently and watch. We were crushed.


Competition, whether it’s in a soccer game or a spelling bee, can teach students about the disappointing dings in life, the ups and downs, challenges and rewards for their hard work.

But is all this drama important?

We think so. Spelling bees can teach or reinforce literacy. And standing behind a microphone — seemingly alone, like a golfer trying to sink a make-or-break putt in front of a gallery — can also give students more confidence. You could tell that some of the St. Bernard’s spellers already had a good amount of confidence.

That’s why it was crucial to applaud each of the spellers, no matter how they did. They may not have won the spelling bee, but they gave it their all, and that’s important. “Work hard” and “Do your best” are good lessons no matter what you do in life. Great job, spellers!

Spelling bee sign at St. Bernard's School in Saranac Lake. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

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