Saugerties’ top spellers

Saugerties spelling bee winner Donovan Barros and runner-up Sophia Kamrass. Both will attend the regional spelling bee in Schenectady in February

Saugerties spelling bee winner Donovan Barros and runner-up Sophia Kamrass. Both will attend the regional spelling bee in Schenectady in February

A savvy student from Riccardi Elementary School proved to be the quintessential speller in Saugerties at the District’s annual spelling bee on Jan. 14.

Donovan Barros, a Grade 6 student at Riccardi, spelled savvy, quintessential, and lots of other words correctly to win the bee and an opportunity to take part in the regional competition in February. Sophia Kamrass, a Grade 6 student from Cahill Elementary School, took second place and will also compete in the regional bee.


The District event featured 12 spellers from all four Saugerties elementary schools and Saugerties Junior High School (SJHS). Three of the students – Caroline Johansen of Morse and Sophia Kamrass and Nino Tuccillo of Cahill – were returning spellers, having taken part in last year’s bee. Caroline was last year’s winner and competed in the regional bee.

This year, spellers’ families, District staff, and other guests were on the edge of their seats during the nail-biting 17-round bee, during which no one missed a word for the first three rounds. As the words grew increasingly difficult, ranging from edification and exoneration to circumflex, apocryphal, and hydroponic, spellers began to miss, eventually leaving just Donovan Barros, Sophia Kamrass, and Grade 8 student Eddie Cullenen of the SJHS by the end of round 12.

Despite being nervous and doubting that he could win, Donovan projected total confidence during the competition, making quick work of words like emporium, centenary, and anathema. He started round 13 with the word “thyme,” was given the word and its definition, but had to pause a few moments before spelling because of a brief technical interruption. When asked by pronouncers if he wanted to hear the word again, Donovan spoke up brightly, “I’m good,” and proceeded to spell the word flawlessly.

In the end, Donovan’s winning word was “kraken,” a legendary sea monster. It was a fitting finish for the young spelling champ, who enjoys reading the fantasy novels of Rick Riordan. When he’s not busy learning hundreds of spelling words, he also likes to play video games and build with LEGOs.

Riccardi Principal Sue Osterhoudt said she wasn’t surprised by Donovan’s victory, noting that he is an excellent reader.

“I’m proud of all the students who competed, especially Donovan,” Osterhoudt said.

Runner-up Sophia Kamrass also likes to read Rick Riordan books, or anything else that has to do with Greek mythology. She visits the Saugerties library several times a week and also likes to draw and play soccer. She described her second-place finish as “happy and terrifying at the same time.”

Susan Gies, Director of Elementary Education for the District and one of the pronouncers, said the competition was the best she had ever seen and the sentiment was echoed by the other adults on hand, many of whom admitted that they didn’t know some of the words the students were asked to spell.

“This was A-W-E-S-O-M-E,” said Superintendent Seth Turner, who offered consolatory handshakes and high-fives to students who were eliminated in each round.

Donovan and Sophia will both travel to Schenectady to take part in the regional spelling bee at Proctor’s Theatre on February 25.

This year’s competitors in the District bee were: Donovan Barros; Eddie Cullenen; Megan Elbadwi of Mt. Marion; Caroline Johansen; Sophia Kamrass; Ethan Kleinke of SJHS; Cassie Lucas of SJHS; Zander Luz of Mt. Marion; Nino Tuccillo; Sophie Turner of Riccardi; and Hannah Yonnetti of SJHS. Liam Curtis, a Grade 5 student at Morse, was the winner of his school bee but was unable to take part in the District bee. Grade 4 student Gracelynn VonAhnen took his place.

The spelling bee was organized by Grade 5 teacher Amy Hopf. Pronouncers were Susan Gies and Cahill Principal Dawn Scannapieco. Judges were Junior-Senior High School Principal Tom Averill and Morse Principal Don Dieckmann. Riccardi Principal Sue Osterhoudt and Mt. Marion Principal Carole Kelder were also on hand to cheer on the spellers.