Pali Bee Challenges Greatest Minds to Spell-Off

Stars of the day, pictured from left, back row: Councilmember Mike Bonin, Pali Bee, Presenter Gary Saunders, principal of Palisades Charter Elementary School, and Honorary Co-Mayors Janice and Billy Crystal; bottom row: From the fifth grade, first-place winner Lily Williamson, third-place winner Tedrah Smedley and second-place winner Gigi Applebaum-Schwartz
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer


When more than 100 grandiloquent spellers gathered in Gilbert Hall at Palisades Charter High School on Sunday, Feb. 25, for the annual Pacific Palisades Spelling Bee, the stage was set for a historic battle of the brain cells.

With words like “esophagus” and “colloquial” deceiving some of the finalists, losers walked away with words they wouldn’t soon forget and audience members gained a newfound appreciation for the autocorrect feature on their smartphones.

The competition started in the classroom and library where first- through fifth-grade contestants spelled out 30 words on paper to be submitted and scored by volunteer judges. The excitement and curiosity that was felt in the reception area at the start of the day quickly turned into anxiety and anticipation, as contestants awaited the results of their written submissions.

Guests were treated to free coffee from Estates, a coffee shop opening soon in The Village, chips and salsa from Talulla’s, sweet treats from Hello Honey, and a gaming and lego station put on by the Academy of Technology, Art and Music. Sponsored by the Academic Achievers and the Palisadian-Post, an environment to celebrate academia was set.

The top 10 first- and second-graders were then announced from the stage of Gilbert Hall, inviting finalists from local elementary schools to sit front and center for the next round.

Contestants had 45 seconds to spell out five words, with every point they gained adding to their cumulative total.

The first-grade, first-place winner was Blake Shepherd from Marquez Charter Elementary School. The boy of few but properly spelled words had only one to describe his victory: “Proud.”

In second place came Calvary Christian School student, Dagny Pack, as Geevan Sandu, of Palisades Charter Elementary School, took the third place trophy.

For the second-grade competition, Maria Afzal from Marquez Elementary took home first, Emerson Meehan of Pali Elementary came in second and Abigail Yoda, also from Marquez Elementary, finished in third place.

After a quick b-r-e-a-k, pencils were re-sharpened to start the next round of written entries for third, fourth, and fifth graders.

The submissions again passed through an intense review by three sets of eyes to ensure accurate scoring. At the second round of oral spelling, the words significantly increased in difficulty.

“Xylem” tested the competitors’ ability to spell silent pronunciations, and “circumnavigation” tried to make them forget what they had started spelling in the first place.

The high standard shocked the Post’s proprietor Alan Smolinisky, who took over as word pronouncer. While he admitted to never having heard of the challenge words before, many contestants refused to flinch and took home a new piece of hardware for their trophy cases.

Presented by the recently inaugurated Pacific Palisades Honorary Co-Mayors Billy and Janice Crystal in their first official ceremony, Councilmember Mike Bonin and the ever-eccentric Pali Bee, the winners were announced.

Billy joked that reading the results was “harder than the Oscars.” (No envelopes were involved.)

Taking first place for third-grade spellers was Caroline Baskin from Carlthorp School, Julia Arenson from Village School Elementary in second, and Hanna Shin from Calvary in third.

In the fourth-grade competition, Asa Stratmann from Canyon Charter took home the first-place trophy, Carly Crane from St. Matthew’s Parish School finished second and Jakob Heindel from Marquez Elementary won third.

Spelling the most challenging words of the day, Lily Williamson, a Palisades Elementary student, bested her peers and won first place in the fifth-grade competition. Closely behind her, Marquez students Gigi Appelbaum-Schwartz and Tedrah Smedley finished second and third, respectively.

“What we did is we basically got a list from the national spelling bee … and we practiced for about a couple of weeks,” said Williamson, who has won first and third place trophies in the past, in an interview with the Post. “It feels really good [to win] and it feels like it paid off.”

For more photographs from the Pali Bee, turn to Page 13.