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Spelling champ getting ready for national bee

At Haile Middle School, Vincent Franco has earned some well-deserved renown.

“My sixth-graders think Vincent is quite the cool guy,” said Dana Mills, Haile’s Language Arts Department chair and a sixth-grade language arts teacher.

Vincent, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, is one of 274 contestants from around the country primed to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on June 2-4 in Washington, D.C.

He is the only contestant from the Bradenton-Sarasota area, and one of only 13 from Florida.

The son of Bob and Helene Franco, of Country Creek, Vincent spelled his way past local competition March 23 to earn the trip to the national bee.

As a sixth-grader, Vincent was the No. 2 speller at Haile. As a seventh-grader, he was school champ, but due to a lack of a sponsor, was unable to move on to nationals.

This year, Coastal Orthopedics and Pain Management stepped up as the local sponsor and is paying for the trip to nationals for Vincent and one of his parents.

Vincent has intensified his study of words, their spelling and origin, using two 290-page books crammed with words that most of us would never say in ordinary conversation. Who knew that English had so many obscure words?

Vincent’s success has led many of his classmates to try to improve their spelling skills, including using some of the tests at

Spellers improve their odds of getting the word right “if they are able to visualize the word in their head and put it together, and know where the word comes from,” Vincent said.

It’s good to be able to think on your feet, too.

In a previous competition, Vincent was called out for misspelling the word “libretto.” The judge had indicated the word was of Latin derivation, but failed to say it also stemmed from the Italian. Vincent was able to successfully challenge the judges, and to keep himself in the competition.

His teacher, Ms. Mills, says that Vincent is a “renaissance man,” but “very modest.”

He’s an excellent violinist, good at math, “good at everything,” she said.

The preliminaries will be telecast on ESPN, and the finals will be shown on ABC.

Vincent said he appreciates the help he has received from his teachers and classmates.

“They are supportive and they are excited for me,” he said.

Ah, and libretto? It’s the text of a musical composition, such as an opera.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.