Caroline Alexandre stood at the microphone Thursday night, collecting her thoughts as she prepared to spell the word that would ultimately propel her to first place in the Bristol Warren Regional School District’s annual Spelling Bee. The Kickemuit Middle School sixth-grader asked for a definition and the word’s origin before taking a deep breath and plunging in.
“P-R-O,” she began.
You could hear a pin drop in the middle school auditorium as she started the word, and with good reason. Already, 18 students had come and gone Thursday evening, as the district brought its best spellers from all grades up to 8 together to crown a district champion.
The tension was heavy and grew heavier with each successive round, as celebrity guest pronouncers Mario Hilario and Barbara Morse Silva slowly culled the field from 20 down to two. As the rounds advanced some students bit their fingernails, sat on their hands and tapped their feet, trying to stay calm. Others stared straight ahead, betraying no emotion until they missed a word. Through it all, Caroline was rock solid.
“T-U-B,” she continued.
Going too fast through her words had twice tripped Caroline up earlier, when she had two chances to defeat the other finalist, Rockwell School fifth grader Gabriel Randall, and third place finisher Samantha Machado.
The rules stipulate that the winner must spell his or her final word correctly, but twice Caroline had rattled through words that would have won her the tournament, getting both “persistent” and “sufficiently” wrong and thus, giving the other two finalists a second chance. But they missed their final words, Gabriel spelling constitutional wrong and Samantha, optimism.
“E-R,” Caroline said, finishing the final word. “A-N-T.”
“Protuberant,” she added, finishing her turn to applause that quickly filled the auditorium.
“Congratulations!” Mr. Hilario proclaimed.
Caroline will go on to represent Bristol Warren in the state spelling bee in the Spring, and the state winner will represent Rhode Island in the national Scripps Spelling Bee held in late May.
Over the course of the night Caroline had gotten most of her words right and nailed the final word, a tricky four-syllable example. But she was unable to squeak out more than one simple word when a reporter asked her if she was excited, and whether she was nervous up on stage.
“Yes!” she said, beaming. “Yes!”