If one were to look in the dictionary beside the word “family” or “supportive”, they could find a photo of the McCune brothers, Rayden, Kaleb, and Jacob, who just participated in the Waverly City Spelling Bee at Waverly High School.
“Our four sons are very close,” said the boys’ mother, Tabi McCune, of Waverly. ”The love between them is very obvious. They support each other in everything they do.”
Rayden, a 13-year-old seventh grader, and Kaleb, a 12-year-old sixth-grade student, have participated in the spelling bee since the fourth grade.
“They have made it to the city bee before but chose not to participate,” said McCune.
Jacob, 9, is a fourth-grade student at Waverly City Schools. He finished in third place this year at the bee.
“I think it’s awesome that Jacob did so good against kids older than him,” said Rayden, who finished eighth in the competition.
Tabi says her sons began studying well in advance for the spelling bee.
“Studying is always a challenge, especially over Christmas break when they wanted to play with their new things and sleep all day,” she said.“They read the words to themselves to study alone. Usually, they would take turns asking each other words, or Dad (Daniel McCune) and I would read the words to all three of them. They really enjoy competing together and against each other.”
Tabi says Jacob, who she says has been “spelling words before he could even speak them”, has been “anxiously waiting for the fourth grade” so that he could participate in the spelling bee.
“It seemed like fun,” said Jacob.
From birth, Jacob has faced many challenges, said Tabi, but has gotten through all of them thanks to the help and support of his brothers.
“Jacob has brain damage and cerebral palsy from birth,” she said. “But his brothers have loved him and helped him through it.”
“I’m just really, really proud of Jacob,” said Kaleb, who finished eleventh in the City Bee and third in the Waverly Junior High Spelling Bee.
Rayden, Kaleb, and their oldest brother, Kydan Potts, are all Waverly athletes.
“Jacob does not play sports. He was born at 31 weeks after an emergency c-section. When he came home from the NICU, he got chubby, walked early, talked early, and was happy and healthy,” she said. “When he was 13 months old, he regressed. All his words were lost, his gait became very unsteady, and he didn’t much care for a lot of attention. There were many tears, lots of doctors, and lots of therapy.”
From an early age, it became clear that Jacob was a wordsmith, says Tabi. Although he remained silent, he would frequently carry books around with him.
“Even though we didn’t expect him to respond, we all still spoke to him all the time. His brothers encouraged him every step of the way,” she said. “When he was almost two, he was diagnosed with encephalopathy, periventricular leukomalacia, and cerebral palsy which mostly effects his legs.”
Young Jacob was a “silent sponge”, says Tabi.
“Right before he turned three, he started to say his letters and numbers continuously. We had no idea how he knew the alphabet or how to count, but we took what we could get out of him,” she said. ”For his third birthday, we got him foam letters and numbers that stuck to the bath tub wall. When we would get him out, there would be words up on the wall that he had put there. Happy. Monkey. Angry. Mom. Dad. Jacob. Even though he still wasn’t speaking words, this was so encouraging.”
At three-and-a-half years old, Jacob finally began to speak.
“The things he knew blew us away. Still today, he says things and we are just like, ‘Why do you know that?’ He is an old soul and wise beyond his years. His mind remembers everything,” McCune said. ”He is an advanced reader and is advanced in math. His teachers have been really great about giving him harder math to do in his free time at school. Sports may not be his thing, but anything academic is his thing. That’s what he loves and that is where he is confident.”
Confidence is something the McCune’s have worked to instill in their sons, says Tabi.
“Self-confidence is something we have always tried to build in our children. It is important to believe in yourself,” she said, adding that standing in front of everyone watching the bee can be “pretty scary.” “I am proud of them for having enough confidence to do that.”
When they grow up, Rayden wishes to be an FBI agent, Kaleb wants to be a Major League Baseball player, and Jacob wants to be a teacher and professional YouTuber.
“All of my boys are different. We are just trying to raise good humans, no matter their limitations or boundaries or failures or differences from other people,” Tabi said. ”We have instilled the importance of effort. Failing with your greatest effort is more than acceptable. It is so important for them to know that nothing is impossible. On days that they lack confidence, their brothers are always there to remind them of who they are. Just love yourself and love each other and everything will be what it is supposed to be.”
Jacob has taught his brothers many valuable lessons, said Tabi.
“Jacob has been a blessing. He has taught his brothers about kids who are different and you have to love them anyway. You need to love them more. He has taught us about patience and hope and loving each other through it all,” she said. “To be in this spelling bee with his brothers was so great for him. They were all so supportive of each other. We teach them to protect each other, stand up for other people, and just be kind, above all else.”
While the boys competed against each other, Tabi says Rayden and Kaleb did not mind that Jacob “beat them”.
“I think they were just so excited to finally get to support him in something he loves,” she said. “Jacob’s three brothers adore him, push him, and encourage him to focus on his strengths, which has been so important in his development.”
As for Jacob, one word can be used to describe his feelings about his spelling bee placement: Pride.
“I feel good that I got third,” he said ”I did a good job.”