A column for scrappy students
Spelling Whiz, Part Two: Tony Incorvati of Canton Country Day
A few months ago we interviewed sixth-grader Nicholas Rushlow of Pickerington, Ohio, who participated in the Scripps National Spelling Bee the last two years, placing 17th last spring. We were pleased to hear that another Ohio student, seventh-grader Tony Incorvati of Canton Country Day School, has also made it to the Nationals twice and, like Nicholas, has been using the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee to study for this year's bee season. We talked to Tony and his mother Nancy Incorvati about how they've been preparing.
VT: Tony, when did you first start competing in spelling bees?
Tony: In fifth grade, I kind of just fluked my way to the Nationals. I was taking it lightly that year, but I found myself at the National Spelling Bee.
VT: You found yourself at the Nationals. You make it sound like you just kind of wandered in there.
Tony: I wasn't expecting to make it that far. But I did a respectable job that year. And then in sixth grade, I went back and I did better, and now it's seventh grade and I'm going to try to do even better. So I'm training really hard this year.
VT: So you're more focused and dedicated this time around?
Tony: Yeah, I'm going to study hard this year.
Mrs. I: After you've gone to the Nationals, you definitely learn tricks, for lack of a better word. Last year when he came back, he knew he wanted to work on word roots. So, Latin and Greek roots, over the summer he wanted to work on those. The Visual Thesaurus has been awesome for that — it's been very helpful.
Tony: Yeah. I've been relying on your site to supply me with tough words.
VT: Nicholas Rushlow has also been using the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee to train. You got to meet Nick when you were both 5th graders?
Tony: Yeah, yeah.
Mrs. I: That was very cool, because it was neat to find another 10-year-old. There was only a very small pool of 10-year-olds. And then to find out that there was another one from Ohio, that was pretty neat. And, so we met up with him the very first year and got to know them, and then last year, we were thrilled to see them back. So we hung around with them quite a bit, and actually, before the finals, they were playing Scrabble in the audience and they were waiting. It was fun.
VT: Are they excited at your school about the possibility of you going back to the Nationals?
Tony: Yeah, I'd say. My coach, really my French teacher, Mrs. Sommers, helps me with word lists a lot, and she's excited. She really wants me to do well in it, and she's very nice. I really appreciate her helping me. A lot of the other teachers are excited, too, because I'm trying to bring them home a very good finish.
VT: Your coach is a French teacher?
Tony: Yes. Well, not really a coach, but just like a mentor.
Mrs. I: She actually last year asked if she could help him, and we were thrilled because Tony gets angry with us because we tend to mispronounce the words.
VT: Well, the French words are always really tough.
Tony: They are quite difficult, a lot of them are.
VT: So now you feel confident with your French-origin words?
VT: That's good. So what words give you the most trouble?
Tony: Probably some of the more offbeat languages, like the Asian and Slavic languages.
VT: What are some of the other things that you do to prepare?
Tony: The only way I really study is with oral practice, like someone reads it to me, or something in the case of the Visual Thesaurus, and I just spell the word right back, because that's as close as you can get to the actual spelling bee routine.
Mrs. I: I think a big thing is that he reads constantly, and he reads everything that he can get his hands on. So, I think that is huge. Just having an exposure to a lot of written work, no matter what it is, helps in the spelling bee.
VT: That's great. What are some of your favorite books?
Tony: I like to read everything. For my current book report, I'm doing "Word Freak," by Stefan Fatsis, about Scrabble tournaments. It's funny because I really enjoy Scrabble. It's one of the things that spelling geeks do.
VT: How would you compare playing Scrabble to competing in spelling bees?
Tony: It's slightly different. In Scrabble, you have to think about different things like placement and tile leaves and organizing racks. In spelling bees, you need to concentrate on just the word, and you need to know what it means, and you need to know its origin. So it's slightly different, but still it's word-centric.
Mrs. I: When he was younger, when we played Scrabble, I always used to say, "You can't use a word unless you know what it means."
VT: That's a good rule.
Mrs. I: He had a tendency to use these big words when he was much younger. I mean, he was playing Scrabble at 5 and beating us all. But it was funny because I'd ask, "Do you know what that means?" He'd say, "No." "Take it off the board." Gosh, I think he was maybe 7 when he said, "I want an official Scrabble dictionary." I was like, "Yeah, OK."
Tony: So I can tell them, "Ha, ha, now I know what it means."
VT: Besides Scrabble, what else do you like to do just to have fun?
Tony: Well, for my hobbies, I play piano. I've been playing for two years now. I play baseball in the spring and in the summer. And I'm in Boy Scouts, too, so that's fun. I get out a lot. I have a bunch of friends in that, too. I'm going to a chess tournament this weekend. I play competitive chess in Canton Scholastic Chess League.
VT: Would you say you have a competitive spirit with the spelling bees and the Scrabble and the chess?
Tony: Yeah, I would say I like stuff that combines competition and academics. I'm also participating this year in the Mathcounts program, so that's another thing to keep me busy. And then, of course, the constant waves of spelling lists.
VT: Thank you, Tony, and good luck!