Portrait of a Champion

January 11, 2017

Portrait of a Champion

Student Spotlight: Ethan Mallon ‘19, Four-Time Spelling Bee Winner

Pick a word, any word from the Scripps School Spelling Bee list. Pick the hardest word you can come up with, one that would stump even the most verbose, loquacious adult. Maybe something like: “pterodactyl”, “aspidistra” or “ebullience.” Throw that word out to Grymes sixth grader Ethan Mallon ‘19 and watch as his brain goes to work. It’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, but in a flash you’ll see him processing the word, breaking it down into smaller chunks and arranging the letters methodically in his head. The complicated inner workings of his mind are easy to miss because he remains utterly composed and unphased, and when he lists out the letters, it’s with total confidence. Odds are, the spelling of that word will be correct.

It should come as no surprise that Ethan won today’s Annual Grymes Spelling Bee for another year, making him the Grymes All-School Spelling Bee Champion for a record four years in a row!

The competition is fun for Grymes students, who qualify to participate and engage in a friendly contest for the much-coveted title.

The Grymes Spelling Bee is a long-standing tradition for students in the second through eighth grades, all of whom compete together in a series of elimination rounds in which students are asked to spell words of increasing difficulty. Misspell a word by just one letter, and you’re out! The competition is fun for Grymes students, who qualify to participate through Scripps National Spelling Bee pre-testing. Peers of all ages – and often siblings – engage in this friendly competition for a range of prizes and a much-coveted title. Grymes Spelling Bee participants receive a certificate of participation, coupons for free treats from local hot spots such as The Lightwell and Wise Guys, and an ice cream party, while the top three finalists receive additional prizes such as a one-year subscription to Britannica Kids Online and cash prizes of up to $40. Only the winner, however, can move on to represent Grymes Memorial School in the Free Lance-Star Regional Bee, which this year will be held in Fredericksburg on March 11th, and a chance to compete at the National Spelling Bee in Washington DC for the grand $40,000 prize!

Believe it or not, spelling is not a skill that comes particularly naturally to Ethan. “Sure, I enjoy it, but it’s not something I’d say is easy. I study the lists,” says Ethan when asked if he thinks of himself as a spelling whiz. Ethan attributes his continued success to hard work and preparation. “I study the Scripps lists really hard every year, and I also work with the regional book just in case we get past the yearly list in the Bee.” Ethan’s strategy: use his nearly photographic memory to picture in his mind where the word is within the Scripps list. “I’m a visual learner, and seeing the word in my mind helps me to break it down into chunks. I focus on the root word within the word and go from there.”

As a third grader competing against Upper Schoolers, it was quite an accomplishment to win his first Bee four years ago.

The sixth grader, who lists history as his favorite subject and reading as a hobby, became motivated to compete in the Spelling Bee in the third grade at the prompting of his family. “My parents thought I’d find it fun to compete, and I liked the challenge.” As a third grader competing against Upper Schoolers, it was quite an accomplishment to win his first Bee four years ago. Each subsequent year has continued to test his skills. “Last year, third grader Parker Giles ’21 gave me a run for the money. We really duked it out just the two of us for about ten rounds!” This year’s spell-off with eighth grader Milo Jacobs also proved to be a hard-fought battle, and he now adds this year’s winning word “waltz” to a growing list of championship-winning favorites that includes such puzzlers as “dodecahedron” and “bourgeois.”

Now that the Grymes competition is over, Ethan will turn his attention to the regional competition in March, which he considers higher-stakes. “I would love to go to the nationals some day. That would be very cool.”

Cool indeed! We couldn’t be prouder of Ethan as he represents Grymes at the next level of competition in March and beyond! Congratulations, Ethan, four-time spelling champ!



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