Lincoln’s Chris Relyea repeats State Spelling Bee triumph

Lincoln’s Chris Relyea repeats State Spelling Bee triumph

Christopher Relyea, a 7th-grader at Lincoln Middle School, smiles after spelling the word “massacre” to win the State Spelling Bee. The Bee, sponsored by The Valley Breeze, was held at Lincoln Middle School last Saturday. Christopher will represent Rhode Island at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. (Breeze photos by Bill Murphy)
Community School 4th-grader Nolan Rogalski survives to final rounds

LINCOLN – The final word was massacre, an easy one for Lincoln Middle School 7th-grader Christopher Relyea, who, with it, clinched the State Spelling Bee championship title and a second trip to the national finals in May.

Saturday’s bee, sponsored by The Valley Breeze on Chris’ home turf, at the middle school, drew together 27 of the state’s top spellers for 22 rounds of competition, far more than in recent years of wordplay.

And, as expected, the state’s other contending champion, Stephen Landry of North Kingstown, was the last speller left standing as Chris claimed victory.

Stephen had represented Rhode Island at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2013 and 2014, then relinquished the title to Chris in a flub last year. The highly anticipated rematch went all the way to round 21, when the Wickford Middle School 8th-grader went down on the word podiatrist after Chris rattled off the spelling of submersible, then massacre to win.

While Chris claimed the championship, bee watchers Saturday were also buzzing about a 4th-grader from Cumberland’s Community School.

Nolan Rogalski, one of the youngest on the stage, survived all the way to round 19, when he went down on the word proletarian. Losing in that round with him was a returning speller, Giovanna Landrie, a Deering Middle School 7th-grader from West Warwick, who lost out on the word aquiline.

The four, Chris, Stephen, Nolan and Giovanna, had emerged as the bee’s formidable foursome in Round 11 and continued on for so many rounds that the day’s pronouncer, Jared Pliner of WPRI-12 News, later confessed he worried about running out of words.

The bee’s youngest ever participant, Aathraey Shrikanth, a 2nd-grader representing the Mayoral Academy Blackstone Valley Prep charter schools, missed on the word angelic in the first round.

Chris, who is the son of Marina and John Relyea, told The Breeze he’d been practicing about an hour a day since January, as well as fielding challenges from friends at school.

On hand to see her student Saturday was Lincoln Middle School Principal Heidi Godowski.

Chris’ mom also credited his mentor Peter Moreau, a former teacher who now runs the Math Olympiad program in Lincoln elementary schools, and Central Elementary educators who keep in touch with him. “The staff and teachers give a lot,” said Marina Relyea. “They care. And it truly shows.”

Chris said he was confident throughout, hesitating only on the word sanguinary. He noted a review of prefixes and suffixes helped with one of the final words, submersible.

Chris said that last year in Washington, D.C., he survived to the third preliminary round. Since that experience, he’s learned to slow down and think carefully. “I had a habit of rushing,” he explained.

Cumberland’s 4th-grader Nolan credited his success to an ability to always keep trying. “I studied so hard, but I didn’t expect to get this far.”

He had devoted every spare minute, including some recesses, he said, to studying. “It’s just been crazy. Word after word.”

Cheering him on Saturday were assembled family members, including parents Amy and Matt Rogalski. Credited, too, were Community School teachers Jodi Magill and Sarah Piluri.

Three of the final four, Chris, Stephen and Giovanna, are musicians together in the Youth Repertory Orchestra of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School. Additionally, Chris and Stephen both gave up a chance to compete statewide in the MathCounts competition in favor of the bee.

Sponsors of Saturday’s event were Navigant Credit Union, Anchor Subaru Nissan, Hunter Insurance and Dave’s Marketplace.

The head judge was the exacting Donna Morelle, former Cumberland school superintendent.

Judges joining her were Martha Correia, of Navigant Credit Union, and Leigh Martin, professor of English at the Community College of Rhode Island.

Breeze Publisher Tom Ward served as emcee, and the event was coordinated by Lisa Beaulieu, chairwoman of the Cumberland School Committee.

The scene at Lincoln Middle School during the Rhode Island State Spelling Bee last Saturday.
Spelling Bee judges, from left, Leigh Martin, professor of English at Community College of Rhode Island, DOnna Morelle, former Cumberland Superintendent of Schools, and Martha Correia of Navigant Credit Union, are all ears during the competition.
Nolan Rogalski, a 4th-grader at Community School in Cumberland, competes with 26 other students at the bee.
Jared Pliner of WPRI-TV 12 was the pronouncer for the spelling bee.