It took 62 words to separate the winner from the second-place finisher at the recent fifth-grade spelling bee at Brook Park School.
“It was just kind of crazy,” said Jack Szymczak, who finally won the contest on April 16 over second-place finisher Jesse Whisler by correctly spelling the word “helicopter.”
It only took 69 words to eliminate the other 18 competitors, but then Szymczak and Whisler went back and forth, correctly spelling almost every word thrown at them.
The two were high-fiving each other as walked by each other to take their turns at the center of the stage in the Brook Park gym.
“It was pretty crazy,” Szymczak said. “Every time we were walking past each other we were saying “good job” and stuff. We were trying our hardest just to win; we were trying to like motivate each other.”
Whisler, the granddaughter of retired longtime District 95 teacher Doris Stanek, said that she was surprised at how well she did. After Szymczak spelled a word incorrectly Whisler had a chance to win, but was tripped up by the word “ukulele.”
Despite not winning, Whisler was very happy, and surprised, about finishing second.
“I was not disappointed, because when I realized I was second I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m either in second place or first place and both of those are amazing,'” Whisler said.
She couldn’t hold back her excitement during the contest.
“I started dancing around the stage,” Whisler said. “I had no idea I could get second in the spelling bee. I thought I was going to get out first.”
Szymczak is new to Brook Park School this year, having moved from Oswego to Brookfield over the summer. He won a spelling bee last year at his old school in Oswego. He did a little preparation before this year’s contest.
“I did some practicing at home with my mom,” Szymczak said. “She was just giving some hard words, and I was just trying to spell them.”
Szymczak said that his toughest word to spell in the contest was “encyclopedia.”
Whisler practiced just a little.
“My preparation was quizzing myself in my head on words that I didn’t know,” Whisler said.
Szymczak and Whisler didn’t know each other well before the contest, because they are in different fifth-grade classes at Brook Park.
The contest lasted for nearly 90 minutes and, as the contest went on and on, some in the audience, which consisted mostly of third- and fourth-graders got a little bored.
“It was going so far that some to them started playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with each other and they started playing chopsticks,” Szymczak said. “They were getting really bored while we were up there.”
Whisler agreed that the initial enthusiasm of the younger kids waned as the contest went on.
“A lot of people were cheering for one of us at first, and then they just didn’t care,” Whisler said. “They wanted it to end. They were so excited to go back to class.”
Both Szymczak and Whisler said that they were nervous at the start.
“Up until I got into the final three I was really scared up there, like it was nerve-wracking,” Szymczak said. “But when I was part of the final two, I finally got my confidence and I started not to be scared up there.”
Whisler was just happy to be there. She was absent from the school the day her class had its own spelling bee to determine its four entries to the school spelling bee. But then her teacher, Ellen Calkins, had another contest with Jesse and the qualifiers and Jesse made it in.
“I got in on like the skin of my teeth,” Whisler said.
Szymczak’s mother, grandmother, sister and his third grade brother Sam were in the audience as were Whisler’s parents.
When Szymczak correctly spelled “encyclopedia” to finally win, the gym erupted.
“It was one of the loudest things I ever heard at the school, because everyone yelled at the same time and then everybody started piling on top of him,” Whisler said.
Szymczak said his brother was cheering not so much because his big brother won, but for a more prosaic reason.
“My brother was cheering because it was over,” Szymczak said.
The Brook Park spelling bee is a school-based contest and not part of the National Spelling Bee competition so this is, for now, the end of the road this year for Szymczak and Whisler for spelling contests.
Brook Park Principal Mike Sorensen loved the camaraderie and mutual support that Szymczak and Whisler showed for each other.
“I think they wish they could still be spelling, because they both were really cheering for each other,” Sorensen said.