Local 6th grader spells his way to national bee

Published 12:13 am Saturday, March 24, 2018

LAPLACE — Nervous and overwhelmed from two months of memorizing complex words, Thomas Gross III of LaPlace nearly opted out of last week’s 30th annual spelling bee at Xavier University.

If he had quit, he never would’ve heard the crowd cheer as he was handed a first place trophy and an opportunity talented spellers across the nation have only dreamed of.

Thomas Gross III shows off his trophy to little sister Tanae Gross Tuesday at LaPlace Elementary School.

In May, Thomas will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete against skilled regional winners in the 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee.

A sixth grader at LaPlace Elementary School, Thomas has years of experience on stage competing in spelling bees.

Last year was the first time he advanced to the regional round at Xavier University, following in his older sister’s footsteps.

This year’s unexpected win came down to one word — T-R-I-T-I-U-M — after 40 intense rounds.

Thomas was stunned and excited about the win, and he’s already set his sights on exploring Washington, D.C. Visiting the White House is at the top of his list.
He’s equally excited about picking out a present his father promised him before he took to the stage at Xavier.

Thomas Gross III stands with teacher Asha Meadows.

Thomas said his parents, Thomas Gross Jr. and Tatanisha Gross, always encourage him to succeed. Coming from a family of seven children with an eighth on the way translates to having a support system the size of a small army, with siblings willing to call out study lists.

Studying word lists feeds into Thomas’ knack for memorization.

“I pretty much have a photographic memory,” Thomas said. “If I see the word, I’m going to remember it, and it’s fun to win against other people when you’re competing.”

The Xavier spelling bee was the third level of competition, following school and parish-wide bees. It’s been a lot of work, Thomas said, and his faith pushed him through.

“A few days before the bee, I didn’t want to do it,” Thomas said. “I kept saying it was in my way. God helped me continue to work, and I’m glad I didn’t give up.”

One of the most memorable aspects of the day was when his father rushed onto the stage to congratulate him with a big hug.

Tatanisha Gross said she and her husband expected Thomas to do well but were blown away when he took home first among children from public and non public schools in a seven-parish area.

She agrees that faith is a guiding force in Thomas’ life and accomplishments.
“We give God the glory for everything He has done for our family,” Gross said. “We want to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ because He has blessed Thomas to do so well.”

Gross said she’s proud of her son’s diligence, which does not start or stop with the spelling bee.

Thomas is a well rounded, all-A honor roll pupil and a student athlete who recently helped his team capture a basketball championship. His accomplishments led him to win fifth grade Student of the Year in 2017. Though he excels in spelling, his favorite subject is math because he connects with teacher Asha Meadows’ lessons.

Meadows said Thomas leads the class by helping others who struggle with the content.

“He’s able to articulate and explain his answers,” Meadows said. “I’m so proud of him. He’s a model student in my classroom, and he’s a model student for LaPlace Elementary.”

Outside of school, Thomas enjoys spending time with his family, notably playing basketball and football with his brother.

After competing at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Thomas plans to continue focusing on sports and studies so he can become an NBA player and an engineer.

A fundraising account is available at gofundme.com/road-to-dc-for-the-gross-family to cover travel expenses so Thomas can have the support of his family on the national stage.