Bridge City Literary Criticism State Champions

Mona Bradford has spent the last three years as the UIL Spelling coach for Orangefield. Diane Grooders has been the Literary Criticism coach for Bridge City for six years. Though they are from rival schools, the two coaches pull for each other’s team. Both teams recently competed in the UIL State Meet. Orangefield came in 2nd place, just seven points behind the winners. Bridge City swept the competition in all categories. “We took everything,” said Grooder. “We beat the 4A, 5A, 1A, 2A and 3A. They were on fire!”

Grooder said she and Bradford met through a mutual friend, another teacher.  They got to know each other at competition. Grooder said Bradford called her one summer and asked “How do ya’ll study?” Grooder asked the same question of Bradford. They started talking and became friends.

“Even though we are rivals, we encourage each other. Her team is phenomenal,” said Bradford.

OHS State spelling team: (left to right) Chase Tiller - 12th, Jenna Cook - 12th, Constance Ingram - 12th, and Kimanh Tsan - 11th.

Until Bradford started coaching Spelling, Orangefield didn’t even have a team.

“I would credit Brea Crane as kinda starting it, because she started studying like a week before [the competition] and she made it to regional’s, by herself,” said Bradford.

“The person that was coaching had a death in the family, so they asked if I would go and take Brea and be the grader. If you have a participant, you have to have a grader.” Bradford said, “I think I was asked so they could hook me to be the sponsor the next year and I took the bait.”

Brea did not place at regional, but the next year she said, “I really want to study.”

She brought in more participants the next year, plus Bradford would enquire of students, “Who’s a really good speller?” The first couple of tests they scored in the 30s. To win at state you need to score in the 90s. They have a list of 1500 words they have to learn each year. On each test 20 percent of the words are just random and not on the list.

“I believe in last minute cramming, studying,” said Bradford. She said if you still have about 120 words that are giving you trouble, if you focus for a few hours on those words you are bound to remember a couple of the them, which could make the difference in where you place.

“As long as you organize yourself and manage your time well; it definitely going to pay off in the end,” said one of the Orangefield team, Jenna Cook. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is perseverance because this year has been so busy with graduation.” She said the hardest part was finding time to study.

“Three years ago Giddings had not even heard of Orangefield, because Orangefield did not have a team. Now when we go to contest we get respect,” said Bradford

“I’m an Orangefield graduate, the only piece of jewelry I’ve worn for 30 something years is my Orangefield ring. I had to recently take it off when I broke my wrist because my hands were swollen. So for me, I want to give back to Orangefield.”

The first team she ever coached won the state title. She was hoping the same for this year, because her team went to the state competition undefeated. Three of the students placed at the state level for all 3A schools in the online competition. This year’s team consisted of Constance Ingram, Jenna Cook, Kimanh Tsan and Chase Tiller.

Of Grooders’ team, Bradford said, “She is the powerhouse in Literary Criticism. In my opinion, that is a hard contest, 10 times harder than spelling.”

The literary team consisted of:  Jordan Smith, Jessica McKinney, Jessica Bean, and Dani Sanders. Besides coming in 1st as a team, individual winners were:  Jordan Smith – 1st; Jessica McKinney – 2nd; and Jessica Bean – 3rd.

“She starts in the summer,” said Bradford of Grooders’ coaching technique.

“We read our novel, our play and all of our poetry for the year at least once during the summer,” said Grooder. “We meet after all of us have read what we need to read. If there is a film of the play, and this year there is because it’s ‘The Importance of Being Ernest,’ well then we have a movie day and watch that. If there is a film of the novel, and this year there just happens to be that because it’s “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers. We’ll have a movie day and watch that. So that gets us started for the year.

“We analyze some of the poetry and once the year starts we meet twice a week as regular as clockwork. They just study, that’s our whole secret,” said Grooder. “I have now revealed our entire secret which is we just study. We make up tests for each other and Jeopardy games and all kinds of things. We study and we all get along and so it’s fun! These kids, it’s crazy, but the more they learn, the more they want to learn.

“If I could just get that through to all students that it’s like an addiction, you just want to learn more. Your brain loves it. It’s exercise just like working out! When State was over this year, they wanted the new books and were ready to start for the next year. They are so enthusiastic. I love all of it, in fact this summer I’m going to Carson McCullers’ home in Georgia to kinda get the feel of all that. Hopefully I’ll learn something when I’m there to share with the kids and motivate them.”

“We don’t do it for the money,” said Bradford.

“I’m just really proud of our team, especially Dr. Bradford,” said Cook. “She truly puts so much into it. Sometimes she stresses herself out over it because there is so much going on, She’s truly the reason why we do as well as we do. She’s constantly pushing us, encouraging us to do our best.”

While Grooder is already preparing for next year, Bradford said this is probably her last year to coach. “I’m going to pass the torch. We have five spellers waiting in the wings.”

Bradford did also want to mention Orangefield student, Luke Johnson (coached by Misty Bellard) placed 4th for Computer Applications.

Grooders’ entire team returns next year with only one of them being a senior. The following year she will recruit on new team member from the middle school.