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Bee’s top spellers have a way with words

Whatever the teachers at SS. Peter & Paul in Williamsville are doing during spelling lessons seems to be working.

Michael Sobol, a seventh-grader at the school, outlasted 19 other middle-schoolers Sunday to win the 88th annual Buffalo News Spelling Bee, becoming the second consecutive winner from the Catholic elementary school.

Michael specifically credited his language arts and literature teachers with instilling good spelling habits. He said he knew them only as Mrs. Ackerman and Mrs. Anain.

“I think they just make it fun to learn,” Michael said after the Bee in the Buffalo History Museum auditorium.

In the end, it came down to Michael and Zoe Buck, an eighth-grader at Mill Middle School who had achieved the highest score – a perfect 100 – on the written test preceding the Bee.

After numerous rounds, with just the two of them left, Zoe misspelled “drosometer,” which was then given to Michael. He spelled the word right and was given his own word, “rugulose.”

“As grapes dry out and become rugulose, they turn into raisins,” said pronouncer Cynthia Pearson, a retired high school English teacher.

With no hesitation – and no request for a definition or word origin – Michael nailed it, winning the right to represent the area in the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.

“We’re very proud of him. He put a lot of time and effort into it,” said Michael’s mother, Bobbi. “I knew he was well-prepared and we just wanted him to do his best and have fun.”

“We’re very proud of him,” added his father, Dave. “Hard work pays off.”

Michael enrolled at SS. Peter & Paul only last year, after his former school, St. Leo the Great in Amherst, closed.

“We chose Saint Peter & Paul because of the academics,” Bobbi Sobol said. “We were very impressed with the literature and the English language program, in particular.”

Andrew Erdman won the Bee last year as an eighth-grader.

To prepare for the Bee, Michael said he reviewed word lists from the school’s spelling bee, other lists of challenging words from online and words that Andrew found helpful.

“I just try to relate it to other words with the same sounds and know the language of origin,” Michael said of his strategy.

The competition began with a test in January for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders that involved thousands of students from 68 schools.

“This is an incredible accomplishment for your son or daughter,” emcee Bruce Andriatch, assistant managing editor for features at The Buffalo News, said of the 20 finalists.

The words got progressively more difficult, with words such as “canard,” “gesundheit,” and “pickelhaube” tripping up some of the finalists.

Andrew Kim, a seventh-grader at Transit Middle School, and Therese Pivarunas, a seventh-grader at Children of Mary Home School, finished third and fourth, respectively, while Sampath Petchetti, a seventh-grader at Heim Middle School, came in fifth.

“Very impressive how well all of the kids did,” said Bobbi Sobol. “It was a very good competition, I think. They were all great spellers.”

The top five spellers receive engraved pen and pencil sets and other prizes.

Michael, receives the trip to Washington; $100; the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section; a 2015 U.S. Mint proof set; and a one-year subscription to Britannica Online student edition.

The judges were Kathleen Kreis, former director of English and library services for the Buffalo Public Schools; Carol Schlau, Buffalo News chief copy editor; and Ann Laudisio, principal at Maplemere Elementary School in the Sweet Home District.