Top spellers from Marcellus and Cass

Published 1:02 pm Thursday, March 3, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Viglant
Cass County's best speller, Marcellus eighth grader Blake Terrill, looked like top dog Thursday, surrounded by playful sixth grade puppies from Cassopolis who otherwise owned the 22nd annual bee at Southwestern Michigan College.
With birthday boy Blake - he's 14 today - towering in his Wildcat orange and black over the younger Sam Adams students dressed alike, Trent Conn, Ryne Nickel and Brendan Westrick looked like a three-headed spelling machine.
Spelling coaches have been watching the Cassopolis team since they were fourth graders.
Thirty fifth through eighth grade spellers qualified for afternoon individual competition leading to the finals by missing two or less words in morning team play, which Edwardsburg won in eighth grade with 46 to Dowagiac and Cassopolis at 38.
In seventh grade, Marcellus edged Cassopolis, 42-41, with Edwardsburg at 39 and Dowagiac trailing at 23.
Danum Hunt of Dowagiac finished as best fourth grade speller.
Fifth in the individual contest at SMC's Mathews Conference Center was Elizabeth Mays. Eighth grader Brittany Smith came in sixth.
Blake did "nothing but study" for months after finishing 13th in 2004.
Facing the pressure applied by the trio of sixth graders, he feared he might be overprepared.
He said he doesn't read a lot and relies more on memory for his unerring spelling skill as he reeled off round after round of such words as septennial, geriatrics, calorimeter, masquerade, cybernetics, gerontology, illiteracy, connatural, dissimulate, julienne, tungsten, skimeister and, finally, whodunit and croupier, a casino worker who handles bets.
One word especially stuck out.
Trent spelled postnuptial with a "u," but Blake said it had been mispronounced.
Blake ought to know because it's the same word which tripped him up last February. Trent was back.
Blake's sportsmanship impressed audience members.
Blake was more concerned with holding off a formidable challenge from Trent and Ryne.
Blake snapped a four-year run by Dowagiac, including Coby Heller in 2004, Clay Hewitt in 2003, Lori Key in 2002 (the top three places that year went to sixth graders) and Doug Duchesneau in 2001.
Marcellus last won back-to-back in 1999-2000.
Other boys who have reigned as Cass County's best speller were Anton Smith of Cassopolis, 1998; Jason Lewis of Edwardsburg, 1989; and Monte Rhodes of Marcellus, 1985.
Summer Dohm of Cassopolis, in 1992-93, remains the bee's only two-time winner.
Trent was finally tripped up by putting an extra "n" in whodunit.
Ryne missed herpetology, the branch of zoology devoted to reptiles and amphibians.
Blake drums in the middle school band, belongs to National Junior Honor Society, participates in Science Olympiad and before spelling felt most passionately about golf, which he wants to instruct.
In the morning all 100 students competed on five-person, grade-level teams against the same grade levels from the other school districts.
A point system is in place for team spelling so misspelled words do not eliminate students during 10 rounds.
If students misspell a word during the afternoon individual contest, they are eliminated. The top three spellers remaining at the end all receive prizes furnished by the Cass County Historical Commission.
The top two spellers, Blake and Trent, earn $50 savings bonds.
Blake also received a plaque emblematic of being the county's top speller for 2005.
Brian Wood, Lewis Cass Intermediate School District director of instructional services, coordinated the event.