'Fortuitous' wins county bee for fifth-grader

March 29, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Jack Nolan spent months trying to improve upon his finish at last year's Howard County spelling bee, when he was knocked out in the fourth round.

The fifth-grader at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge studied 15 words a week that his mother, Valerie, found by scouring the Internet. He defined all of the words, wrote them backward and memorized them.

The preparation paid off this year when the 10-year-old correctly spelled "fortuitous" in the 15th round to capture the county title. He topped Caroline Lawrence, a seventh-grade student at Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City, who misspelled "temperance." Jack won a $1,000 scholarship, a trophy and a copy of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. He will now go to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington on May 26 to 28.

"I felt like I was in heaven," the youngster said of the winning moment. "I was just so happy and ecstatic. It was like a flood of joy had burst through my body."

Jack defeated students in grades four through eight, from 37 elementary and 16 middle public schools, seven private schools, and the Columbia Home School Community. The competition was held March 13 at Howard High School.

Jack entered last year's competition after pretty much "acing" every spelling test he was given in school, he said.

"I pick up words that I read in books," said the avid reader of fantasy books and comics. "I read a bit every night."

Jack was honored at Deep Run with a "hero's walk" during which the student body lined the halls of the school and clapped for him as he walked by each grade with his trophy.

"He walked through all the hallways," Principal Cindy Hankin said. "That was really, really a lovely thing."

Jack said he was moved by the outpouring of congratulations.

"I knew that everyone there was proud of me," he said.

Jack appears to have avoided letting the attention go to his head, if his self-effacing outlook on the looming national competition is any indication.

"I think that I will probably lose, but there is no harm in trying," he said.

Since winning the county competition, Jack has taken some time off from studying words, his mother said.

"He's taking a break," she said with a laugh. "The best thing I can do for that child is to stay out of his way. He handles things very well on his own."

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