|Netanel Paley with his father, Jeff, at the local round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.|
How do you spell “champion”? In Netanel Paley’s case, with two “bees.”
The eighth-grader from Bergenfield recently represented the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey at the regional finals for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, as well as the state final for the National Geographic Geography Bee. Though he did not advance beyond the state level, he was the only student in the state to qualify for both competitions.
After acing school-wide rounds held among the yeshiva’s 18 junior-high classes, Netanel moved on to compete against 120 students at the North Jersey round of the Scripps Bee, sponsored by The Record/Herald News at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck; and against 101 fourth- through eighth-grade students in the April 3 state final for the Geography Bee, held in Vernon.
Netanel spelled his way correctly through such words as “linseed,” “consensus,” “homogeneous,” “tonsillitis,” and “quadrivial” before tripping up on “castellan” (the governor of a castle), leading to a fourth-place finish. Paramus eighth-grader Michael Sun will be representing Bergen County at the national round at the end of May.
Days later, Netanel took second place in the state round of the Geographic Bee. By correctly answering eight initial questions of increasing difficulty, he and 16 other students advanced to successive rounds.
Netanel successfully identified Azerbaijan as the oil-rich Asian country in which Ilham Aliyev was sworn in for a second term as president in 2008; and Lake Itasca as the source of the Mississippi River. When only two boys were left onstage, Netanel incorrectly guessed Taiwan as the country commonly referred to as the Land of the Morning Calm. Roey Hadar from Rumson Country Day School in South Jersey won a slot at the national bee by identifying the correct country, South Korea.
Jeff and Shara Paley trace their eldest son’s interest in geography to a United States map placemat they bought him at the age of 3. He used to study it so carefully that he once tore a piece of cheese in half and announced that one half resembled Oklahoma, Jeff Paley recalls.
“I really like geography and it gives me a sense of how large the world really is,” says Netanel. To practice for the bee, he went alphabetically, country by country, through atlases, study guides, and an almanac. He memorized details such as physical features and major cities and exports.
How many countries are there in the world? “There are 194 or 195, depending on if you recognize certain ones,” he answers readily.
Marlene Greenspan, Netanel’s English teacher, says her student is “a self-motivated, extremely smart boy.”
As English language arts coordinator at the yeshiva, Greenspan adds that RYNJ’s longtime participation in both bees fosters good sportsmanship and gives children an opportunity to compete in non-sports arenas. “Everybody can excel in some area,” she says.
In 1994, RYNJ eighth-grader Leyna Friedman of Teaneck was a national contestant at the Scripps Bee in Washington, D.C.
Now that the intense study sessions for both bees are behind him, Netanel isn’t quite finished with competitions of intellect. He is one of nine members of the school’s Torah Bowl team, which faces its championship finals on June 1.
“It’s been hard to juggle everything,” Netanel admits during a phone interview at 11 p.m. “Getting enough sleep is a problem.”
Once he graduates, Netanel can relax a bit more with two favorite activities -playing piano and reading – before entering Yeshiva University’s high school for boys in September.