BROWNSTOWN — Gathered in coach Angie Sibrel’s room the day after their area competition, members of the Brownstown Central High School Spell Bowl team waited for a big announcement.
The Indiana Association of School Principals was going to post the state finals qualifiers on its website around noon Nov. 2.
Of the 127 schools that had participated in area contests Nov. 1, only the top scorer from each of the four classes and the 26 next-best scorers would advance to the state finals Nov. 12 at Purdue University. Those 26 spots could come from any of the four classes.
Brownstown, which is in Class 3, was among that top 30, scoring 58 and placing 17th in the state.
Sibrel, who has coached Spell Bowl at the school for 20-plus years, said it’s the first state-qualifying team since Brownstown went in 1995 and 1997.
“I was excited. I was anticipating a great night, and they did a great job,” she said of her team winning the area competition at Austin High School. “I was hoping for a great performance, and they performed. They spelled very well.”
Saturday’s senior division state finals will start at 11 a.m. The junior division state finals will follow at 2:45 p.m.
Brownstown will be represented by seniors Holden Tovey, Madison Edwards, Elix Preston, Raegan Ratliff, Eli Reynolds, Clayton Blackburn and Violet Plumm, sophomores Abby Tovey and Cody Blackburn and freshman Floyd Davis.
At the area contest, Edwards and Cody Blackburn each spelled eight of their nine words correctly and received a near-perfect ribbon.
Reynolds spelled seven right, while Preston and Ratliff each spelled six correctly.
“I was super, super nervous, and my first word was unrivaled, and (the nerves) just all went away after that,” Reynolds said, smiling. “I can’t remember (the rest of the words). They weren’t too bad. Seeing everybody else go first broke the nerves definitely, but I felt pretty good about it. I got an 8 last year, and I changed one of my words and I would have had an 8 this year.”
Preston said he missed a couple of words he should have spelled right.
“If we didn’t go to state by two words, I would have felt pretty upset, but now I know we made it, I can erase that,” he said.
Ratliff was pretty happy with her round, too.
“I think I did pretty good,” she said. “I don’t remember my scores from the past, but I think it’s one of my best scores. I was happy with what I did, although there were a couple words I probably could have spelled right.”
Plumm said she was nervous going up to spell her words, especially because this is her first year of Spell Bowl and she was the 10th and final speller.
“As the last speller of the night, I got to see how everybody else did,” she said. “When it was my turn to go up, it was just essentially tunnel vision on that piece of paper. There was nothing else that existed but that audio and that piece of paper. It was just words, paper, audio.”
After her round, she glanced at the scores of the five teams at the competition and saw Brownstown had the highest.
“I was immediately 10 times more relieved than I was going up there,” Plumm said.
The team members received blue ribbons for their winning efforts, and then they awaited the state results the next day.
“The first reactions seemed very anti-climactic, but then when the realization hit, we were all about it,” Plumm said of Brownstown being among the state qualifiers.
“I was excited that we got to keep going because I feel like we’ve put so much time into it,” Edwards said. “I would have been upset if we would have had to stop.”
Reynolds described it as a “really, really big deal” because he has been to state in Academic Super Bowl and Science Olympiad but not Spell Bowl.
“This is my seventh year, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full team, so I felt pretty confident that we were going to make it,” he said.
Fellow senior Jayse Davis, one of the four alternates on the team, credited Reynolds for recruiting him and other students to join Spell Bowl so Brownstown could have at least 10 spellers. This year, there are 14 students on the team. The other alternates are seniors Bryce Reaser and Landon Hehman and freshman Jace Reaser.
Sibrel is glad to have a full team, too.
“In the previous years, it was hard to get 10 spellers,” she said. “I knew going in, I had 14 strong students, and I knew if we can get 10 to be able to spell (they would be successful), and we exceeded that.”
The team started practicing the list of nearly 2,200 words in September, and practices have been conducted before and after school Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students had to attend at least 10 practices to be eligible to compete in the area competition, and Sibrel said most of them exceeded that.
Of the four spelling tests along the way, Sibrel dropped each student’s lowest score and averaged the other three to determine the 10 spellers.
“It takes a group of kids that want to do this. It takes a group of students who are good spellers and who attend the practices and who put forth the effort, and this is a great group of students,” she said. “Most of them have been on the team for four years through their high school career. I like working with them. They are a good group.”
Preston said the team has great chemistry, and Reynolds said it’s a great group of people.
“It’s always said that a group like this only comes through the school system every so often, so it’s not very common you get a group like us,” Reynolds said.
Now, the team is working hard on going through the big list of words and hopes the team chemistry pays off one more time.
“Whenever I have free time, I’m going to open my packet and just start cramming it all into my brain. Hopefully, it’s something that will stay there,” Ratliff said. “This is probably one of the few things I’m going to miss about high school. I love Spell Bowl so much. The right people make it fun.”