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Thomas Francisco “Cisco” Martinez Jr., 54, died Jan. 5, 2018, in Juneau. He was born Aug. 21, 1963, in Ketchikan.
Bee calm: District's top spellers keep their cool
Abby Gaugler spells a word at the Ketchikan School District Spelling Bee, held Tuesday at Schoenbar Middle School. On the bench, from left, are Tyler Merle, Aedel Magno and Jaren Ragland. Gaugler is a Fawn Mountain Elementary School student. Merle, a student at Ketchikan Charter School, won the competition and will travel to Anchorage to compete in the state spelling bee. Staff photo by Nick Bowman


Daily News Staff Writer

Fifth-grader Tyler Merle captured a trophy and the Ketchikan School District spelling-bee champion title Tuesday afternoon at Schoenbar Middle School.

"It was sort of hard at the end," Tyler said, "with everyone thinking I was going to win."

Winners from elementary school and Schoenbar bees gathered with family members and classmates in the middle school commons for the event.

The crowd’s tension was heightened by waiting more than a half hour for late students from Tongass School of Arts and Sciences and Point Higgins Elementary. Judges Don Moss and Bob Fernbach studied papers and consulted with each other and coordinator and Schoenbar teacher Robin Harford.

Pronouncer Gregg Poppen briefed all six competitors where they sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a bench facing the audience.

Poppen set the competition in motion after instructing the students that they were expected to do two things: spell every word correctly and maintain their composure.

He also explained to the audience that the students prepared for the bee by studying a list of more than 1,000 words that had been used as the source of the competition’s selected words. The words used at the meet were of Latin, Asian, French, German, slavic or Dutch origin, he said.

Tyler tackled the first word, "precipice," and nailed it.

Fawn Mountain Elementary School’s Abby Gaugler spelled "susceptible" flawlessly, then Schoenbar’s Rosie Kacenas stumbled over "condolences," dropping her from the match.

Aedel Magno, of Houghtaling Elementary School, spelled "benefactor" perfectly before Zoe Ham, of Tongass School, got tangled up with "candidate," eliminating her from further rounds.

Point Higgins’ Jaren Ragland finished the round by spelling "formidable" correctly.

Aedel was eliminated in round two when she accidentally began to spell "juggernaut" starting with a "g" and tried to start over. She was stopped by Poppen, who said that was against the rules. Jaren also was eliminated when he misspelled "pangolin."

It was Tyler vs. Abby.

In round three, Tyler tripped over "ambulance" and Abby correctly spelled "rehearse."

For the win, Abby was asked to spell "sitzmark," but she stumbled by using an "s" instead of a "z," putting Tyler back in the game. He then spelled "glasnost" wrong. In the next round, Abby stumbled when she spelled "paprika" incorrectly, and Tyler rebounded with a correct spelling of "wiseacre."

Tyler finally soared to the champion title when Abby spelled "brackish" wrong, and he nailed "decoy."

"The judges agree — we have a champion," Poppen announced to a roar of applause.

Tyler lifted his trophy as his friends and family congratulated him.

He said, in an interview as his family snapped photos of him, that he likely did well because he is a good reader and writer. He said he has won a prize from the Ketchikan Daily News for his Christmas stories two years in a row.

He said he will prepare for the March 1 state spelling bee by reading the lists of words, explaining that he tried using flash cards and writing the words, but simply reading them worked best.

He said the German words are the most difficult, because of the clusters of four consonants in many of them.

He said he was relieved to have won, because as the rounds went on and on, everyone was probably expecting he would win — and if he didn’t?

"It would start bugging me forever," he said