Update, June 1: Martin made it through to the semifinals on Wednesday afternoon, where he spelled the word “molasse” incorrectly. He is the first Alachua County student to make it this far in the national competition, tying for 22nd place overall.
Original story, May 30: Westin Martin is an eighth grade student at Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville. He was invited to a national geography competition in Washington, DC, but he declined. Instead, he is in Maryland looking to spell his way to the top at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Martin earned his spot in the national competition after out-spelling 13 students in the First Coast Spelling Bee in Jacksonville in April. Now, he is making Alachua County history.
“Someone else had looked back into the history of students that we’ve sent,” said Lincoln Middle School head of the English Language Arts Department Katie Fenton. “They had found that we only had one other speller that has made it to the National Spelling Bee in Alachua County in the entire history of the National Spelling Bee.”
She said that information was dug up by Don Fitzpatrick, the head of the English curriculum for Alachua County Public Schools.
That one other student was sent to the national competition back in 2014 but did not make it past the preliminary rounds, according to Fenton. The 13-year-old Martin has already made it further and will enter the quarterfinals Wednesday.
Fenton has a close relationship with Martin. He became her sixth grade classroom aid and is the captain of the school’s Battle of the Books team.
She said he is always surrounding himself with words.
“The kid can read a whole book in a day,” said Fenton. “He goes through bookshelves of books constantly.”
Fenton said she and other Lincoln Middle School staff and students have tuned in to the Scripps National Spelling Bee to cheer Martin on all week.
The competition continues Wednesday with the quarterfinals. The spelling bee is aired on FOX51 in Gainesville and streaming on ION Plus and Bounce XL.