BCSS crowns AMS 7th-grader as new spelling bee champion

Posted 1/17/21

There was nothing "listlessly" done regarding Ethan Rollax's performance in the 2021 Bartow County Spelling Bee.The Adairsville Middle seventh-grader pumped his fists in the air after correctly …

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BCSS crowns AMS 7th-grader as new spelling bee champion

There was nothing "listlessly" done regarding Ethan Rollax's performance in the 2021 Bartow County Spelling Bee.

The Adairsville Middle seventh-grader pumped his fists in the air after correctly spelling the word meaning "characterized by lack of interest, energy or spirit" to win the 61st annual event, conducted virtually via Microsoft Teams from the central office board room Friday morning. 

"I feel very grateful winning," he said. "I studied with this app called Word Pro based on 2021 list from 'Words of the Champions' from the [Scripps National] spelling bee."

The son of Michelle and Wayndott Sarju was the last student standing out of 16 elementary and middle school spellers in grades 4-8 after runner-up Damaya Norwood from Cass Middle misspelled "macrocosm," and he spelled it and "listlessly" correctly to win the title of spelling champion of the county. 

"Ethan is one of the best spellers I have seen in my 18 years as an educator," said AMS spelling bee coordinator Katie Szweda, who teaches sixth-grade English language arts. "He spells better than most adults, myself included."

Winning his school bee in mid-December, Ethan said some of the words he had to spell at the county competition, which was sponsored by the Bartow County Association of Educators and the Bartow Education Foundation, were "a little hard, but all that hard work paid off."

"There was one tip that I found out to never get intimidated by how long a word was," he said. 

Mrs. Sarju said she knows her son "worked hard" because he began practicing the words about a week and a half into the school year and learned one whole section of words and half of a second section. 

"I wanted him to learn all 4,000 [words], not just part of them," she said. "I told him, 'You don't know which word you're going to get.' He was not prepped for this, really and truly. I had second thoughts, but he told me, 'Don't worry, I'm going to do this, and I'll prove it to you.'"

Principal Tony Stanfill said he thinks Ethan's being the county winner was "awesome because I've been here four years, and we've never had one since I've been here."

"He's the first one to win the county in years," he said. "We're extremely proud of him. He's a great kid, and we wish him the best of luck." 

Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page congratulated the winner and runner-up and said he was "very proud of both of you."

"I'll tell you what, my hands are all sweaty," he said. "I've got to calm down. Y'all had me so nervous, but you did a great job and so, so very proud of you."

BEF Executive Director Dot Frasier, who organized the bee with Dr. Sharon Collum, executive director of professional learning and federal programs for Bartow County Schools, and her committee, was impressed by the county's two best spellers.  

"You're both wonderful spellers, and I would put you as the winner of that region group any day," she said.

Ethan, 12, will represent AMS and the school district in the virtual Region 1 competition on Saturday, Feb. 27, and possibly the state competition scheduled for Friday, March 19. No decision has been made yet about whether state will be virtual or in-person. 

"It's very great," said the distance learner, who started the year at AMS and had planned to return there after Christmas break but broke his hand and opted to learn virtually until the cast is removed. "It's always been my dream to be in the region, too."

Szweda, who gave the AMS winner the 2021 champion word list provided by spellingbee.com to prepare for the county contest, said she is "very proud of Ethan, and I am excited for him to represent AMS in the region spelling bee."  

Ms. Frasier, who has attended all 61 county spelling bees, said she thinks he is "going to represent us very well" at region. 

"He's just one of the best, most confident spellers that I remember," she said, noting the runner-up was "almost equally as good a speller." "He was just so sure of himself. He knew what he was doing. I just hope he wins region because he's one of the best spellers we've ever had. I've got so much confidence in that young man."

Before the bee, Page congratulated all the school champions for doing a "great job getting to this day." 

"I'm excited to watch all of you compete, and I know you're going to do very well," he said. "I know whomever comes out of this spelling bee as the Bartow County School System champion will do very, very well at the state level."

He also said he was happy the district was able to do the bee at all this year. 

"I wish it was in the traditional format of all of you being up on stage, but you know what? We're going to make do today," he said. "We're going to copy what the state's doing so that whoever represents our school system will already have this experience."

Page also said he was "very proud" of all the contestants. 

"Keep up the great work as I know all of you are some of our top students in our school system," he said.  
Ms. Frasier also had nothing but praise for this year's contestants.

"I'm telling you, they just get smarter and smarter every year," she said. "Those kids were spelling words I couldn't even pronounce. I had to look to see the definition of some of them. They just amaze me."

And since Ethan is a seventh-grader, he can "spell again next year if he wants to, and I'm sure he'll be studying for that bee next year," she added.

Each school presented its winner with a certificate after the county bee, and Ethan and Damaya will be presented plaques at an upcoming school board meeting.

Representing the elementary schools in the bee were Logan Dean from Adairsville, Heidi Lozano from Allatoona, Rylan O'Kelley from Clear Creek, Samuel Darby from Cloverleaf, Lachlan McAllister from Emerson, Gabbi Lewis from Euharlee, Irish Fowler from Hamilton Crossing, Kalil Charles from Kingston, Owen Bailey from Mission Road, Owen Kelly from Pine Log, Brant Rutledge from Taylorsville and Makina Watson from White.

The other middle school spellers were Laney Kryzanski from Red Top and Alexis Stevens from Woodland.