By Rusty Nixon
WALKERTON - You could call it a spelling hegemony. You can also bet there’s a group at John Glenn High School that could tell you how to spell it.
Paul Hernandez’s Glenn spell bowl team won its’ 17th Spell Bowl State Championship in the past 26 years and fifth straight state title. Glenn won many of those championships in Division III but has competed in and won the state’s Division II title the past four years. The team has made the state final round for 27 consecutive years more than any other team in the state.
“I don’t know if I know what the secret is but we certainly aren’t going to change it,” said Hernandez of his team’s success. “Every year it just seems that we have kids that are willing to step up and put in the amount of work that it takes to be super spellers. I think the kids take it as a matter of pride now to take on that challenge each year to carry on that tradition.”
The team scored an 86 of 90 in Lafayette last Saturday to take the title and had seven perfect spellers - seniors J.J. Silvey ( a four year speller and four time state champion), Ann Heckman-Davis (three year speller and three time state champion), Chris Mahank; junior Erin Patterson (three year speller and state champion); sophomores Holly Rowe (two year speller and state champion) and Maddy Piedra; and freshman Jennifer Almaguer. Only two teams - both Division I schools - had higher scores in the state finals.
Hernandez is extra proud of his students given the amount of extra curricular time they spend.
“Absolutely nothing against schools like (perennial state champions in Division I) Penn or Martinsville but they have so many more kids to choose from,” said Hernandez. “I was talking to (Plymouth High School Spell Bowl coach) Amy Schmeltz on Saturday and she has the same problem. At schools our size our kids are so very involved in everything that you really appreciate the amount of work it takes.
“The kids at Glenn and Plymouth play sports, they’re in the play, they’re involved with clubs and service organizations, and most of them also have extra academic responsibilities for honors classes. Kids juggling all that are very special.”
Like any successful coach Hernandez admits that he doesn’t do it alone. He gives credit to the teachers in the Glenn system introducing Spell Bowl competition to their elementary and middle school students.
“Both of those teams are very solid and even though there is a big transition from the middle school to the high school it makes a difference,” said Hernandez. “We lose great spellers every year but we always seem to have enough that come over to the high school to fill in.”