By Jam Lewis, Contributor
It was sabado gigante for the top spellers in the 2018 Maine State Spelling Bee held at USM Abromson Educational Center, Saturday March 24. Emerging as first place winner was Colin Aponte, a 13-year old Mainer attending Downeast Homeschool Cooperative in Hancock County. Aponte won when he correctly spelled the word “crescendo.”
Aponte and the other 13 contestants spent the better half of their Saturday dredging through 133 vocabulary words provided by Scripps National Spelling Bee. The National Spelling Bee is scheduled May 27 through June 1 according to their website, spellingbee.com. As a first-time state champion, Aponte earned a trip to Washington, D.C. to compete for the world title in hopes of becoming king bee.
Despite his new status as champion, Aponte is not your average bee student. For one, he fashionably dressed and was quite humble. When asked how it feels to be champ he casually stated “I feel good. I’m glad I won.” His attitude contradicts the average teen who knows they are championship material. Aponte has been in this position several times. He stated he studied words from the Scripps lists, a dictionary and “stuff my mom gives me” to prepare for the championship.
He admits his younger sister Rebecca, who recently celebrated her 11 birthday, is his closest competition. She said, “I’ve been watching Colin and my older brother since I was five years old.” She is referring to older brother Brandon Aponte who previously earned the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee title. Aponte and his sister were neck to neck in the county eliminations, but Colin won first place when his sister misspelled the word sustenance.
Spelling bee contestants run the risk of mispronouncing words depending upon the first pronunciation in the dictionary. The official pronouncer of the words for the past nine years in Maine has been Jeannine Uzzi, USM Provost and a former school teacher of Latin. Uzzi said, “Sometimes the pronunciation that I have, as the standard pronunciation and the preferred is not the one that we’re all familiar with.” She further clarified, “‘Preferred’ depends on where your geographical region is,” especially with Mainers where the ‘r’ is often dropped. She believes the first pronunciation is the culprit that often determines the outcome of the contest. ‘Sashimi’ can sound like ‘sah-shoe-me’ and unfortunately easily misspelled as ‘sashami.’
The Aponte children are homeschooled in Blue Hill by their mom, Louise Aponte. Mr. Aponte, who goes by Juan, says he “hands all the credit of his children’s success to his wife.” Louise and Juan are incredible Christian parents who blessed their children with a full life engaging them in meaningful family time, swimming, and music. In addition to his growing lexicon, Colin is a prize-winning violinist and a long-time member of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. Louise has posted evidence of Aponte’s accomplishments and talent on YouTube. A child’s commitment to an instrument provides an insight into their very being.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee has a special place in American culture for many reasons. Since its inception from 1925, the only time the competition was withheld happened in 1943, 1944 and 1945. Those were the devastating years of World War II. One could argue the National Spelling Bee is the next big thing to follow March Madness, one of the most exciting televised competitions. ESPN has broadcasted the National Spelling Bee for the past 20 years. The winner gets a trip to New York to appear as a guest on LIVE with Kelly, plus $40,000 and a trophy. The winner’s school also receives a U.S. savings bond worth $2,500 and a full reference library from Merriam-Webster Inc., along with smaller prizes of historical significance.