December 2, 2021

V-U-L-N-E-R-A-B-L-E: DeRado wins Cortland spelling bee

Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Aaron Lener, left, Homer Junior High School student, and Matt DeRado, Cortland Junior High student, battle it out in the final round of the 55th Annual Cortland Youth Bureau spelling bee Wednesday at Cortland Junior High School. DeRado won.

Matt DeRado did not expect to win the Cortland Youth Bureau’s 55th annual spelling bee.

“I was nervous, mainly because I had to spell in front of all my peers,” he said, after it was all said and done. “I didn’t think I would win.”

The event, sponsored by Key Bank, was held Wednesday at the Cortland High School auditorium.

“These are the 10 of the best spellers in Cortland County,” said John McNerney, director of the Cortland Youth Bureau. “They were the top scorers during the first round of sixth, seventh and eighth graders in Cortland County schools.”

Eight school districts sent kids to the competition, with a first-round written exam. Four schools had students in the verbal final: Cortland Christian Academy, Homer Junior High, Cortland Junior High and Victory Christian Academy.

The 10 junior high students were in a row on the bare stage at the Cortland High School — facing an audience of some 300 junior high teens and relatives.

Asked about the tough words, later, DeRado said: “I really don’t remember my words.”

“It was nauseating,” said Jaxon Coy, the lone sixth grader of the bunch. “My teeth were chattering. … It was the first time doing one of these things.”

The kids sparred for seven rounds, spelling the likes of “limousine,” “indulgent,” and “aquarium.”

They were evenly matched until round four. Then they started making mistakes.

Ileanna E. Hopkins, an eighth grader, got nixed by “abbreviate,” after Matt DeRado spelled it correctly, knocking her out.

Abigail Williams, an eighth grader at Homer Junior High, was hanging tough until round five, when she was tripped up by “ambassador.” Dana Howard, seventh grader at Cortland Junior High, got the death knell ding of the bell with the word “morose.”

The tempo picked up in round six: Nick Kruman, an eighth grader at Homer, misspelled “fluorescent,” Jaxon Coy from Cortland Christian Academy, was done in by “molecular” and “playwright” would be Zahara Petrella’s undoing. Hannah Joy Forehand, eighth grader, got the ding after she misspelled “embroider.” But she did take home a third place win, and a $100 college savings bond.
“I was very nervous,” Forehand said. “But it was very exciting. … I could feel my heart racing.”

Then it was down to two finalists: DeRado and Aaron Lener, eighth grader at Homer Junior High. The round was brief. A matter of seconds.

With the first word “unforgettable,” it was over for Lener, who spelled it with only one “t.” DeRado had only to spell it correctly (he did), and spell one more word right, for the win. His winning word was “vulnerable.”

“I think I did pretty well,” said Lener, who took home a $250 savings bond. “I am still shell shocked. It’s still surreal to me. I would like to thank all my awesome teachers at Homer who helped me get to this point in my career.”

DeRado got to choose between an $800 savings bond or a laptop computer for first place, and was leaning toward the laptop. “I don’t know what a savings bond is. Once I know what that is, I will decide,” he said.