Local man places in national bee

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Written by Whitley Kilcrease

A Troy man came in fifth place at the 16th Annual AARP National Spelling Bee.

James Sherry, 70, is a French professor at Troy University who has participated in the contest for the past four years.

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According to Sherry, the competition in Cheyenne, Wyo. began about 7:30 a.m. Saturday and lasted until the final round ended at about 6 p.m. the evening.

The competition consisted of two segments, the first of which was a written spelling test of 100 words taken from the printed and online formats of the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The top 15 participants with the best scores, including any ties, progressed to the oral competition in round two. Sherry was included among the finalists.

Following the written test, there were 47 rounds of oral contests during which 16 finalists spelled 294 words. Each participant, in random order, would be given a word to spell and remain in oral competition until reaching a total of two incorrectly spelled words.

Sherry was eliminated after missing the word “kyat,” which is the name of the currency of Burma (Myanmar), and “hyaluronidase,” an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of hyaluronic acid.

“This past weekend makes four years now,” Sherry said. “This is the best score I’ve received so far.”

There were more than 48 participants in the oral competition, representing 24 states across the nation, including another Alabama resident from Cullman.

“My favorite part is meeting people from all over the country,” Sherry said. “You see all kinds of people like lobbyists, school teachers, and lawyers from places like New York and California. We had dinners and receptions over the weekend where everyone would share stories about themselves.”

Sherry first began participating in spelling bees at the age of 13 when he represented the state of Indiana at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in 1955. He said he participates in the AARP spelling bee every year to “help keep mentally sharp and active.” He plans to continue participating in the future, starting with next year’s competition.

“I’m planning to go back next year,” Sherry said. “I hope I’ll get to bring the championship home to Troy with me.”

The competition is open to anyone age 50 and older. It was created in 1996 by a group of AARP members in Cheyenne who wanted a fun way to challenge their peers to keep their minds sharp as they age.

The oral spelling rounds of the 2012 competition were broadcast online and you can view an archived video of the event. There will also be complete list of words used in the bee available online.

To view the video or for more information about the competition, visit www.aarp.org/spellingbee.