Jim Sherry wins National Adult Spelling BeePublished 11:00pm Monday, March 11, 2013
“Quincunx” is a rather strange looking and odd sounding word.
At least, Dr. Jim Sherry thought it was. So strange in fact, that he committed it to memory.
That was 58 years go.
On March 3, Sherry, who teaches French at Troy University, couldn’t help but smile when the word was called to him in the final round of the National Adult Spelling Bee in Long Beach, California.
“I knew it right away,” Sherry said. “Quincunx showed up in the study booklet for the kids’ spelling bee in Indiana when I was in seventh grade. Quincunx is a geometric figure. It’s an arrangement of five things in a square or rectangle with one at each corner and one in the middle.”
As the final word in a national spelling bee, quincunx, had another meaning. It means “National Adults Spelling Bee champion” and, when Sherry correctly spelled, quincunx, he was awarded that title and the $1,000 prize.
“Responding to the challenge is what competing is about for me, not the money,” Sherry said. “Half the prize money in the National Adult Spelling Bee must go to a charity. The spelling bee is sponsored by the Community Action Team, whose founder, Justin Rudd, is a native of Ozark.”
Sherry chose the Troy University Circle K Club as the charity to receive the CAT donation and will give the other $500 to Bush Memorial Baptist Church.
“For me, it’s all about the competition,” he said.
To win the national title, Sherry had to go three hours and 27 rounds and put out 31 challengers, all from the West Coast.
It came down to him and Brenetta Gresko, a retired schoolteacher from Long Beach. They went one-on-one for 12 rounds until she fell to “tourbillion.”
“She asked for both the human and computerized pronunciation and the French pronunciation of the word was maybe a bad deal for her,” Sherry said. However, it opened the door for Sherry to take the national championship with that very familiar word, quincunx, he had stored in his gray matter computer in winning the Indiana youth spelling bee.
During the entire National Adult Spelling Bee, Sherry wasn’t even stumped on one word that proved to be difficult for the spellers, “crwth.”
“Crwth has no vowels and is a good word to keep in mind when playing Scrabble,” Sherry said. “Crwth is a musical instrument of the Middle Ages. I knew it immediately.
“I had only one anxious moment, when my word was ‘kludge.’ I had never heard the word and wasn’t sure if it began with a ‘k’ or a ‘c.’ But, it’s a technical term so I chose ‘k’ and luckily, that was right.”
Sherry had participated in the “Justin Rudd” spelling bee three times, taking ninth, then fifth and, this year, the title. He is also hoping to win the title in the Wyoming AARP Spelling Bee in July.
“I’ve participated in that spelling bee four times and it’s very strong competition. There will be 60 or more participants,” Sherry said. “The first part of the competition is written, 100 words, and the top 15 will be in the spell down.”
Sherry said that he has been preparing for spelling competitions for four years.
The study guide for national spelling competitions is the Webster Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition, which contains 1,500 words.
“I hire one of my students to work with me 200 hours a year,” Sherry said. “I pay all of their expenses with a summer tour group I lead to Paris. I give them a duplicate copy of the dictionary and, for example, we will work on the ‘K’ words and they will come to my office and drill me, like a coach.”
Sherry said spelling bees are excellent ways to keep the mind sharp and enjoy friendly competition and, too, he is fascinated with words and the way they are spelled.