5/4/2012

Ave Maria student preps for national spelling bee

 

PARKER. Ave Maria School eighth grader Frank Cahill didn’t like spelling bees much in the fourth grade, when he first started testing his ability to string letters together to form words. But the straight-A student’s naturally competitive nature gave way to dogged persistence. Last year, he made it to the top 40 finalists in the Colorado state spelling competition. That’s when it hit him, like a paroxysm (OK, like a freight train).

Ave Maria student Frank Cahill qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 30-31 in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Susan Ronan)

PARKER. Ave Maria School eighth grader Frank Cahill didn’t like spelling bees much in the fourth grade, when he first started testing his ability to string letters together to form words. But the straight-A student’s naturally competitive nature gave way to dogged persistence.

Last year, he made it to the top 40 finalists in the Colorado state spelling competition. That’s when it hit him, like a paroxysm (OK, like a freight train).

“I thought I wanted to win the championship,” he said.

On March 10, 14-year-old Frank accomplished his goal, when he captured first place in the 72nd annual Colorado State Spelling Bee.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I had worked so hard for it for nine months. It was hard to believe that all I worked for happened.”

Frank will represent Colorado and vie against 277 other 6- to 15-year-olds in the nation during the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 30-31 in Washington, D.C. ESPN channels will provide full television coverage.

Despite his blasé beginnings, Frank this year had to choose between the state spelling competition and a similar math competition, having qualified for both.

“I had to weigh which one I really enjoy doing,” he said. “I really like the competitiveness in spelling. I have a real passion for this.”
An estimated 12 million students around the nation competed to be whittled down to the final 278 contestants. Only 6 percent, or 16, of the 278 schools represented are parochial, a fact that Frank’s father, Mike Cahill, finds disappointing.

“Catholic schools used to be really strong, but not anymore,” he said.

Ave Maria School has been behind Frank all the way and threw him a party after his victory.

Like any serious competitor, Frank started training in July with a coach, a former Spelling Bee champ himself. Tutoring sessions increased from two to eight hours a week as the state contest and then nationals have neared.

“You have to put a lot of time into it and train hard,” Frank said. “We study words in a lot of languages and apply the rules.”

The training emphasizes pronunciation and etymology, Mike Cahill said. Because when it comes down to it, Frank had not specifically studied his winning word in the state competition, metacarpal, but he had remembered it from biology class and knew enough about its derivations to correctly belt it out.

His mom, a college English graduate, also helps, picking out words of the day for him to learn and memorize.

Although his father said he is thrilled about Frank’s title, the spelling bee involvement has been not so much about winning but creating a family activity they all can share. Frank’s sixth grade sister also made it to this year’s state competition.

Frank will head off to Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora in the fall. But for now, he is in the preparation mode for going national. He will concentrate on his training, breathing and relaxation techniques, and visualization skills, using his forefinger to air spell them in his hand before saying them out loud – so he doesn’t skip a letter, which he said would be embarrassing.

“I’ve been enjoying myself,” Frank said. “I’ve already captured my goal of winning state.”

Ave Maria’s spelling bee coach and Spanish  teacher, Maria Tara, calls Frank “an extraordinary student who is passionate about the English language, math and playing the violin.”

Frank also won this year’s Archdiocesan Bee, and fellow eighth graders rallied around him and promised to come back next year to help the school host the 2013 advanced competition for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Frank has been an exemplary role model to all the students at Ave Maria, where is was often seen with his spelling bee study guide,” Tara said. “This year, he has led the Ave Maria Catholic School Student Council with a huge heart and a good sense of humor. During all the spelling bees Frank’s courtesy shone brightly as he thanked the judges for their pronunciation guidance. Even with his abilities and successes, Frank is humble, thoughtful and a good friend to all."