Wed | Apr 26, 2017

The reverend's magic spell

Published:Monday | February 16, 2015 | 2:00 AM

Days after 12-year-old Jody-Anne Maxwell beat out 248 other competitors to become the first non-American to win the esteemed Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, in May 1998, she returned to a royal welcome.

That welcome included the reading of a proclamation from Governor General Sir Howard Cooke during a courtesy call at King's House.

It was a reception truly befitting a monarch; but if Jody-Anne was the reigning Queen Bee, the power behind the throne was the high priest of coaches, the Reverend Glen Archer.

The man who became famous for being the maker of spelling champions went on to coach a few more top-10 challengers in the international contest, including Kingston College's Gifton Wright, a crowd favourite who placed fourth in 2012.

Yet while it was during his 40s that Archer first waved his magic wand and cast a spell on his rivals, his involvement in word tournaments dates back to 1965, when he was a boy of 11 attending Harbour View Primary School. As title-holder for St Andrew in The Gleaner's Children's Own National Spelling Bee Competition, Archer had to settle for sixth place in the national face-off.

TASTE OF VICTORY

Fast-forward 21 years to 1986, when, on his coaching debut in the same competition, with a student representing the same parish, Archer got his first taste of final-round victory, courtesy of Karla McNish from Ardenne High School.

The young lady who lifted the trophy emerged as the first in a long line of victors from the institution where Archer had been a teacher of religious knowledge since 1978.

Prior to this, the spelling competition had virtually become the dominion of Vaz and St Cecelia preparatory schools. Archer, however, had already started to put together a combination of ingredients towards creating his own recipe for success - a cocktail that he would continue to refine over the years.

With their appetites whetted, his protégés from Ardenne, Jody-Anne Maxwell among them, went on to devour their competitors year after year.

Moreover, in the odd year or two when the school was denied first place, the winning contestants were likely to have been trained by Archer himself, who chalked up a whopping 26 all-island Spelling Bee wins as coach in 29 years of competition.

As the 'Spelling Archer' kept on hitting the bullseye, students from a growing number of schools began signing up to learn from the expert, and his drive, combined with their diligence, helped Archer to continually strike his target of distinction.

QUIZ COACH

In 1992, when he turned his attention to the annual academic competition for secondary institutions, Schools' Challenge Quiz, his stock soared even higher, paying substantial dividends when Ardenne High took home the top prize three times under his tutorship.

When Archer left Ardenne after more than 20 years to become a training consultant, his title might have changed, but what he brought to the table was the same standard of excellence that had always been his monogram.

While it is the norm for a minister of religion to be identified with a particular church or denomination, the Jamaica Theological Seminary graduate was almost always associated with the educational fraternity, even as he applied Christian principles to his interactions with his students. Still, having to constantly inspire adolescent pupils to greatness at a time when they are likely to be jaded and increasingly self-assertive would have been no mean task for Archer, who was known to be a stickler for hard work and discipline - and uncompromisingly so.

Yet his actions were always tempered by his commitment to his charges and his desire to see them become their best selves.

For his contribution to the nation in the field of education, Archer was conferred with the Order of Distinction and a special Gleaner Honour Award, among others.

What is a lesser-known fact, though, is his involvement in sports, the high point of which was the Ardenne team's 1991 triumph in two premier schoolboy football competitions - the Manning Cup and the Olivier Shield - under his management.

Along the road to fame, the illustrious coach met with his fair share of detractors, who denounced his sometimes unorthodox training techniques for their arduous nature. There were also those who felt that he was far too combative in his competitiveness.

Unruffled, Archer brushed criticisms aside and kept his focus on his goal of producing what he hoped would be not just winners, but multidimensional human beings who would contribute to society in a meaningful way.

While only time can tell if this will prove to be the case, what is unquestionable is that the level of success that Archer achieved with his students was more than enough to leave an entire nation spellbound.

Archer's Bees

The Reverend Glen Archer has coached 26 champions in the National Spelling Bee Competition. From 1993 to 2009, he coached 17 consecutive champions.

He was also the coach of Jody-Anne Maxwell (then of Ardenne High School), the 1998 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee champion and the only non-American to have won that title.

1986: Karla McNish - Ardenne High

1987: Garfield Grandison - Ardenne High

1988: Rusanna Roberts - Ardenne High

1989: Ludlow Hoilett - Ardenne High

1990: Janice Maxwell - Ardenne High

1993: Charles Deans - Ardenne High

1994: Shanna Ricketts - Ardenne High

1995: Orville Ramocan - Ardenne High

1996: Jason James - Ardenne High

1997: Jody-Anne Maxwell - Ardenne High

1998: Kathryn Lewis - Ardenne High

1999: Romell Newby - Ardenne High

2000: Rhea Brathwaite - Ardenne High

2001: Daniel Thomas - Ardenne High

2002: Alicia Forrest - Ardenne High

2003: Trudy McLeary - Ardenne High

2004: Cornel Grey - Portmore Missionary Prep

2005: Stacey-Ann Pearson - Ardenne High

2006: Rosanna Pike - Ardenne High School

2007: Regina Bish - Campion College

2008: Sade Dunbar - Immaculate Conception High School

2009: Shari-Jo Miller - Bishop Gibson High School

2011: Hanif Brown, Jr - Ardenne High School

2012: Gifton Wright - Kingston College

2013: Christian Allen - Ardenne High

2014: Tajaun Gibbison - Knox College

2015: Archer was in hospital when his St Andrew Champion Sara-Beth McPherson won the Spelling Bee finals in Kingston.