Saratoga County

Galway spelling champ calm under pressure

Brooke Martin, the 14-year-old Galway Junior High School student who competed in a Kids Week program

Brooke Martin sure can think on her feet.

The 14-year-old Galway Junior High School student who competed in a Kids Week program on “Jeopardy” two years ago won her third regional spelling bee on June 6.

Martin came in first in the regional BOCES spelling bee for Saratoga, Washington, Warren, Essex and Hamilton counties, a distinction she earned in three of the five years she competed.

“She’s pretty good under pressure,” said her mother, Kelly Martin. “She kind of takes things in stride. She’s pretty easygoing about it.”

The eighth-grader also won last year in seventh grade and in fifth grade. In sixth grade she tied for third.

Brooke also has competed in the annual Capital Region Spelling Bee at Proctors in Schenectady; the winner of that contest moves on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

The BOCES bee, which is separate from those two contests, was held at Skidmore College and sponsored by the Saratoga Jaycees for students in fourth through eighth grades who participate in the Gifted and Talented Resource Center.

Brooke credits Harper Lee, J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins with helping her become a star speller.

“I read all the time,” she said, citing her favorite books as “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Lee, the “Harry Potter” series by Rowling and the “Hunger Games” series that Collins wrote. “I’m just able to mentally connect so many words.”

She has devoured books all her life, her mother said.

“She’s one of those kids who gets the summer reading book and she’s done the first day of summer.”

Brooke is excited and nervous but calm enough to think through words during the spelling bees, at least now that she has several years of them under her belt. Her first experience was more intimidating.

“I was 9 years old and terrified,” she recalled.

She described the “moment of confusion” after the word is spoken, and then a feeling of confidence when she knows the word or believes she can tackle it using root words.

“I kind of picture the word in my head as best I can and then I read through the letters.”

Sitting in the audience, her mother feels more anxiety.

“It’s fun for her and nerve-wracking for me,” Kelly said with a laugh.

She and her husband, Len Martin, are both social studies teachers in Gloversville and have seen their two older daughters go through the spelling bees before Brooke.

This year was the last one for their family, since high-schoolers don’t have spelling bees.

“I’m a little sad about that,” Brooke said.

She is no stranger to the pressure of high-stakes contests. In 2011 she appeared on the game show “Jeopardy” during a Kids Week program that invited 10- to 12-year-olds to compete.

She was one of 15 contestants flown to Los Angeles for the taping and walked away with $1,000.

At one point, Martin was $2,000 ahead of her two competitors, but then she bet too much on a question about the end of World War II and lost ground. They ultimately beat her, but she was still happy to be able to go, she said then. “It was really enjoyable,” she said.

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