Ron Levine (left) and Laren Tolbert show off their championship medals after The Cardinal at North Hills’ annual Spelling Bee. (Photo courtesy of The Cardinal at North Hills.)

Batman has Robin. Butch Cassidy has the Sundance Kid. Ron Levine has Laren Tolbert.

For the uninitiated, the latter dynamic duo spelled V-I-C-T-O-R-Y at The Cardinal at North Hills annual spelling bee, advancing to the next round of the Kisco National Spelling Bee.

“I know it would have been impossible to win anything if I hadn’t had this gentleman [Tolbert] as my partner,” Levine said. “He got me out of trouble several times.”

Levine’s background in medicine and Tolbert’s background in chemistry were crucial to their success. Levine even had a few suggestions for those looking to hone their spelling skills. 

“Read old novels, which I do all the time. You see these words you’re totally unfamiliar with but you need to find out in order to follow the story or reading,” Levine said. “Also, go to medical school, because there were an unusual number of medical terms that were thrown at us, where I think I had a little advantage over some of the others.”

As for Tolbert, he attributes his success not only to his professional experience but also to his bilingual childhood experience.

“I was a child in Brazil, so I was fluent in Portuguese, which is a Latin language and also a phonetic language,” Tolbert said. “So you see a word and how to pronounce it automatically. English is impossible from that point of view, but since most words are derived from Latin, I have an advantage in spelling them because I can guess what the vowels should be.”

The next steps for Tolbert and Levine will be the Kisco Spelling Bee East Coast semifinals. Although cool and confident, they aren’t promoting any expectations of victory. But you can expect them to accomplish big things when they put their heads together. 

“Winning would be nice, but I don’t necessarily set that down as my expectation,” Tolbert said. “I think it’s always a mistake to over-promise.”

“I hope we can create and carry the flag of the Cardinal and hold it high and lose gracefully,” Levine quipped. 

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