GREENFIELD — Nine-year-old Ethan Smith was nervous.

Monday night was his first-ever Spell Bowl appearance, and he wanted to make his team proud.

The fourth-grader from New Palestine Elementary School was among dozens of students participating in the 31st annual Indiana Academic Spell Bowl at Greenfield Intermediate School.

The host school was among many to host Spell Bowl competitions Nov. 13 throughout the state, with scores tabulated within various divisions.

Competing Hancock County schools included two teams from both Greenfield Intermediate and Maxwell Intermediate schools, Eastern Hancock Elementary, New Palestine Elementary and New Palestine Intermediate School.

Schools from outside the county included Morristown Elementary, Pendleton Elementary, and Coulston and Hendricks elementary schools in Shelbyville.

Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders statewide took turns Monday evening spelling from a list of 750 words — from abacus to ziti.

In the Blue Class, Team 1 from Maxwell Intermediate School landed one spot shy of the Top 10 for the state with a score of 52 — just four points below the top score.

The local event organizer, Caitlin Gordon — a Greenfield Intermediate School teacher and former Spell Bowl coach — was thrilled with the turnout this year.

“We’ve got 11 teams this year from nine different schools, which is great,” she said.

Ethan, the first-time team member from New Palestine, wanted to join his school’s spelling team because “spelling came naturally to me,” he said.

He’s enjoyed spelling ever since the first grade when he learned to memorize spelling words by reading them and repeating them over and over again. “Sometimes I write them out too,” said Ethan, who said the biggest word he knows how to spell is probably “miscellaneous.”

His Spell Bowl coach, Laura Rodebeck, thinks spelling competitions are a great way to teach young students how to function well as a team.

“I think it gives the kids something to focus on and be part of. They learn to collaborate, support one another and cheer for each other — all really good things,” she said.

“Plus spelling is so important. We’ve been studying the list of 750 words since early September, and we’ve gone over all of them, and I think they’re really proud of that,” she said.

Eastern Hancock’s spelling coach, Cathleen Huffman, loves to see so many kids turn out each year for Spell Bowl.

“They learn so many skills beyond just spelling, like organization, responsibility, competitiveness and grit. It’s so good for them to learn to take on a challenge,” she said.

Sixty students tried out for this year’s Spell Bowl team at Eastern Hancock, the smallest school system in the county, yet the team had to be limited to eight spellers and eight alternates.

One of the team’s spellers, 10-year-old Katelyn Elsbury, felt confident going into her first-ever Spell Bowl on Monday.

“I just practiced a lot and used spelling apps. Those help me a lot,” said the fifth-grader just before the competition began.

Scores of parents, grandparents and siblings turned out for the event, packing the bleachers at the intermediate school by the time the contest began at 5:30 p.m.

Spellers from each team took turns in each round, writing out a word that was given by a recorded emcee broadcast on a screen in the school gym. The students had 20 seconds to spell each word until a bell rang, altering them to raise their pencils in the air.

The crowd watched in silence as the spellers racked their brains for the correct spelling. A few jabbed their pencils triumphantly in the air, while others shed tears now and then when a word was missed.

The Indiana Academic Spell Bowl is sponsored by the Indiana Association of School Principals, which posted the results Nov. 14 on the association’s website,

Following are the scores of the teams which competed at Greenfield Intermediate School:


Maxwell Intermediate, Team 1 — 52

Maxwell Intermediate, Team 2 — 46

New Palestine Intermediate — 46

Pendleton Elementary — 35

Greenfield Intermediate, Team 1 — 26

Greenfield Intermediate, Team 2 — 16


Eastern Hancock Elementary — 47

Hendricks Elementary — 20


Morristown Elementary — 23

Coulston Elementary — 14


New Palestine Elementary — 23