Bloomfield middle schooler wins Connecticut Spelling Bee with ‘cataphora’

Jessika Harkay, Hartford Courant
·2 min read

Charles Fennell, an eighth-grader from Carmen Arace Middle School in Bloomfield, was the last speller standing in the Connecticut Spelling Bee Sunday.

Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, 10 rounds and 13 other students ranging from third to eighth graders, Charles spelled the word “cataphora” to win the first-ever virtual Connecticut Spelling Bee, hosted by the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and The Courant.

Hayden Hughes, a fifth-grader who is homeschooled, and Adam Pendergrass, a seventh-grader from Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, tied for second place. Camden Mullarney, a fifth-grader at East Lyme Middle School, placed third.

Charles, “a spelling bee veteran,” began his journey after watching the movie “Akeelah and the Bee” in third grade. After using dictionaries to study for over three hours daily, he began competing in 2018 as a fifth-grader at Carmen Arace Intermediate School, according to a news release.

“[Spelling] helps me to do better in school with the knowledge of knowing how to spell and understand the meaning of words,” Charles said.

In 2019, Charles was his school’s spelling bee champion, placed third and in the Connecticut Spelling Bee and advanced to the third round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Last year, more than 11,000 students enrolled to compete in the Connecticut Spelling Bee, but it was canceled because of the pandemic.

“Spelling bees offer students the opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of the language,” Jennifer Matos, executive director of the Noah Webster House, said. “Through this experience, we hope that students will discover that words really do matter. This knowledge will help them to become articulate and sentient citizens.”

ESPN Senior Editor and former Scripps National Spelling Bee speller Amy Goldstein Simkovitz served as the the state’s spelling bee pronouncer. Assistant Professor of Special Education and Director of the Literacy Internship Program at the University of Saint Joseph Sharon Ware and Connecticut State Education Resource Center Editor Jeremy Bond were judges.

Charles now will represent Connecticut at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in July. The country’s top 10-12 spellers will be able to attend in person as the rest of the students will spell virtually.

Jessika Harkay can be reached at jharkay@courant.com.