Oh Mon Cher! French Words Play Spoiler at Foundation’s Spelling Bee

Photo: The Chenery Cheetahs, the 2015 Foundation for Belmont Education Spelling Bee Champions: Solenn Marion, Grace Deane, Gillian Palmer and Maddie Knight.

They came onto the stage of the Belmont High School auditorium in T-shirts sporting names such as “Sassy Pandas,” “Alphabeetizers and “Not Another Spelling Bee.” Some wore mustaches, others costumes ranging from princess dresses to bear-inspired head gear.

And the more than 700 Belmont students, from kindergarten to sixth grade, came to spell on Saturday, Nov. 14 as participants in the 17th annual Foundation for Belmont Education Spelling Bee.

The bee will raise nearly $20,000 that helps the Foundation fund enrichment programs and provides grants to teachers that benefit single classrooms to entire schools, said Jamie Shea, president of the Foundation for Belmont Education.

“It’s also a great that this is our most attended event of the year as parents come to take photos and join in on the fun,” said Shea.

Under the skilled hand of host Greg Stone (who announced his retirement from the job after 12 years) early 200 teams in 21 “swarms” (groupings of six to nine teams) got their opportunity to show their spelling prowess, from the Kindergarteners writing out “fun” and “away,” to the fifth graders in the competitive rounds, taking on tougher ones such as “philanthropist” and “martyr.”

And this year, words with a French origin were pivotal in the finals, knocking out some very strong teams. “Potpourri” was an especially harsh word as all but one of the teams during on

For the team Magical Spell – made up of sixth-grader Eman Alkayid and the fifth grade’s Daniel Lai – the ability to spell “mayonnaise” and “pasteurize” allowed them to come from behind two teams and make it to the finals.

“I figured pasteurize had to do with Pasteur,” said Lai while Alkayid said they just worked their way through the spelling of the popular sandwich spread.

There was one French word that left all the finalists stumped. When “hors d’oeuvre” was selected by the judges, a look of horror and puzzlement descended on the participants faces as if they had encountered snails as a pre-meal appetizer. The judges – including long time pronouncers Laurie Graham and Anne Mahon, time-keeper Joanna Kaselis Tzouvelis and umpire, poet and professor Stephen Burt – decided quickly the word was a bit much for middle schoolers to chew on.

Finally, the Chenery Cheetahs, a quartet of fifth graders made up of Grace Deane, Maddie Knight, Solenn Marion and Gillian Palmer – used a cooperative approach to the spelling, defeating the Fab Four – Theo Gallagher, Alek Karagozyan, Brian Shu and Brennan Thomson – with “hygienic” after the girls went ahead on the tricky “queue.” The winners received a $100 bond from the Belmont Savings Bank along with a trophy.

So what makes a winning speller? Studying, being smart and “having a marker of destiny, fate, luck and power,” said Marion.

“And being good friends,” said Knight.

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