Anthony Filippone came to the Charleston County district spelling bee with his game face on. The championship included 39 students who had won their individual school competitions. Filippone, a Thomas Cario Middle School sixth grader, had cracked under the pressure last year, but he was determined to take home the trophy this Jan. 17.

The district board room was filled with teachers, friends, and parents, a few with well-worn last minute study aids sitting in their laps. The crowd watched silently as the spellers did their best, grimacing when it was evident that a speller had messed up and occasionally looking over to the judges when a particularly difficult word stumped a few members of the crowd.

By the end of the night, Anthony succeed. While he admits to being somewhat nervous, he seemed all business as he asked for definitions of words when he was hesitant to trust his ears and amused the crowd when he quickly silenced the moderator once he got the gist of the word. His spellings were uniformly quick and loud. There was no doubting that he had been to the bee before and that he was ready to win.

“He just has one of those type of memories where it goes in correctly the first time,” says Anthony’s father, Michael Filippone. Round 1 brought caboose and mongoose, Aspen and adobe. Round 2 included sultan and magnolia. Early in round three, one student added an extra m to admiral. She caught herself, but it was too late.

Anthony says stumbling over words is a common mistake. “Make sure of yourself,” he offers as advice for future spellers.

Other students missed because they didn’t hear the word correctly, spelling twelve instead of twelfth.

There were some softballs in Round 4: diary, channel, naughty, followed by a few tricky ones in Round 5: luggage, array, tortoise.

The contest came down to adequate. Stiles Point fifth grader Angel Ayers flubbed the word, giving it an i instead of an e. Anthony rattled off the correct answer, first quickly correcting Angel’s mistake, then slowly completing the word to make sure he didn’t make his own. Then he got the winning word: career.

“Career?” he asked, surprised this could be the bee-winning word. “That’s the job career one?”

After hearing the word in a sentence, Anthony easily spelled the word and won the trophy.

He had practiced, but didn’t tell his parents he was competing until he won his school championship.

“The same thing happened last year,” his father says.

Last year, Anthony placed in the top 18 districtwide and then placed eighth in the Post and Courier‘s Lowcountry competition.

“That was my first time,” Anthony says. “I was really nervous and I cracked. I could have gotten a lot farther, but my tongue stumbled, I was so nervous.”

But he said the experience helped this time.

As for the winning secret, Anthony says it’s something he’s learned from watching other spelling bee champions. He offers it almost as a pint-sized Mr. Miyagi.

“Intense focus,” he says. “You need to have no distractions.”

But Anthony says he still has spelling mountains to climb. His favorite hard-to-spell word is a 1,909 letter monster that some consider to be the longest word in the English language. It starts with “Methionylglutaminylarginyl …” and ends with “threonylarginylserine.” And that’s likely all us spelling bee novices need to know.

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