Spelling champ falters

Glendale News Press

He may not have advanced to the finals, but Toll Middle School eighth-grader Jerry Cortez did make it more than 2,660 miles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Friday, nailing words like "pyroligneous" and "consuetude," but falling one "L" short in "favilla" during the sixth round of semifinals.

The 14-year-old and three-time Glendale Unified spelling bee champion will also be a little more recognizable at school after appearing live on ESPN for the competition.

"I got a bunch of news from my friends about 'Oh yeah good job, you did a great job, we were watching,'" Jerry said from Washington D.C. "It was a good run. I'm making new friends from all over the country; it's really fun."

Jerry was the sole competitor from Glendale Unified, having won his campus, school district and Los Angeles County regional competitions this year. Between all the competitions, Jerry earned more than $750 in cash prizes, as well as a slew of reference books and a free trip to Washington D.C.

"We have like 500 dictionaries," Jerry's father, Marlo Cortez, said.

In October, Jerry put in extra time during lunch with Karen Kerr, an English teacher who volunteered to work with the spelling bee squad.

Kerr, who is one of 77 Glendale teachers who continue to hold pink slips of possible layoffs this summer, said she saw Jerry's intelligence and drive early. When Jerry would misspell a word, he'd write it on a sticky note and place it in his wallet.

"Normally you'd put money in your wallet, but not Jerry," she said. "It's constant drill back and forth. I'd ask him the words, he'd ask me the origin. I'll give him the origin, he'll ask me to use it in a sentence. I randomly pick words . . . words that I couldn't even pronounce, he was spelling."

Jerry is a self-described book worm, with a preference for science fiction. He is also a fencer, a video game enthusiast and a math whiz.

"Math is easier, it's logical," he said. "English is easier because of this, but it's behind math."

After school, Jerry would come home and work an hour or two on his own before Marlo Cortez would continue the drills.

"These semifinals are a reward for him for his hard work," he said. "There's no secret, it's all about hard work and encouragement and support. Plus, he's intelligent."

Jerry credited his parents for their support and encouragement as the main ingredients to his achievements in Glendale and Washington.

"If it weren't for their guidance," he said, "I probably wouldn't be doing this."

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