Success in spelling competition runs in the family

The Cushman family members show off their new awards.

For fans of the Saugerties school district spelling bee, the name Cushman is almost synonymous with success.

At the annual districtwide spelling bee held on December 18, reigning district champion Sam Cushman retained the title he won last year as a sixth grader at Riccardi Elementary School. The runner-up this year was Katie Cushman, Sam’s sister and a fifth grader at Riccardi. The siblings battled through a few rounds before Sam came out on top by correctly spelling “apricot,” a word he later said might trip people up who aren’t sure whether there should be one or two p’s. 

Sam enjoys math, video games, movies and sports, especially basketball. He also knows his way around a trumpet, and has been selected to the Ulster County Music Educators Association all-county band for the past two years.
He also loves pizza: “I could eat it every day, and no frozen, please.” 


Sam still enjoys the spelling bee, too. “I do still find the Bee to be exciting,” Sam said. “I really like the competition and the uncertainty of it. I feel that I have gotten a pretty good study routine down, and remaining consistent with that has led to my success.”

Sister Katie may be new to spelling bees, but she’s not unfamiliar with them, having seen her brother in competition at the district and regional level. 

“I have enjoyed watching him over the years and have always wondered what it would be like to be in the competition myself,” Katie said. “Now that I have been on both sides of the table, I can say that it is a thrill to compete with him and the others.”

Katie enjoys reading, playing the piano, building with her dad, and rock‘n’roll music by bands like Queen, Lifehouse and AC/DC. She also plays the piano and is a member of the Riccardi school band’s percussion section. But her true passion is art, and is a gifted, award-winning painter, including a first-place prize in the 2018 Saugerties Mum Festival art show.

Sam said that this year’s regional bee proved particularly meaningful because it was a family affair. “Repeating as the district champion makes me feel proud and honored,” he said. “Having my sister in it with me this year makes it the most special of all.”

Sam’s extensive experience has helped erase any butterflies he might have felt. “I think that because I have been in so many bees now I don’t feel nervous and I feel like there is less pressure,” he said. 

Katie said she was nervous early on during the regional bee, but became more comfortable the longer she stuck around. “Well, I felt the most comfortable when Sam and I were the only two left,” she said. “As far as nerves go, I was mostly nervous before the bee started and in the very beginning. It got more fun as we went on.”

For Paul and Connie Cushman, having both of their children excel in the regional spelling bee was “almost indescribable.”

““It fills you with pride but ultimately you just want to see them both succeed and grow,” said Paul. “It also means double the nervousness on our part, which at times is almost too much. There is some sibling rivalry but probably no more than any other brother and sister. Overall, they are each other’s best friend, whether they realize it or not.”

The sibling rivalry is friendly, at least to a point. Both have worked with their parents to gear up for the bee. Sam has been able to offer Katie practical advice from recent experience. “I have given her some tips as to competing in the bee,” Sam said. “As far as studying and preparing, she is pretty much doing that on her own with our parents.”

Sam and Katie primarily focus on their own preparations. “There was some training together, like having mock spelling bees in the living room, but mostly they train and study independently with one of us,” said Paul. “Preparing for the regional bee, we can see Sam having a larger role in helping prepare his sister since this will be so familiar to him.”

Sam and Katie Cushman will represent Saugerties at the Capital Region Spelling Bee at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady on February 13. The Cushman kids will be ready. 

“I will admit that there is a little bit of nerves at this point, but being up on the big stage with my brother will be worth it,” said Katie.