There was nothing “frivolous” about the 30 rounds Antioch Middle School eighth-grader Joseph Benson, 14, mastered to win the 2018 Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee and a free trip to the nation’s capital.
Benson spelled “frivolous” correctly, along with dozens of other words, to take home this year’s championship and the right to represent the area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which begins May 27 in Washington, D.C.
It was the first time the Mid-Continent Public Library System sponsored the championship, which includes footing the bill for Benson and a parent or grandparent to make the trip.
There were 19 finalists who competed Feb. 24 at the Woodneath Library in the Jackson-Clay bee. Each had won a school spelling bee and made it through one of two regional contests during which they were required to correctly spell three words to qualify for the championship round.
Mariska Gifford — 10-year-old Kansas City North resident, who is a fifth grader at Fox Hill Elementary — was among the finalists. She said her favorite word to spell is “prestidigitation.”
“It’s a magic trick,” Gifford said.
Like most of the kids in the final, the key to her spelling skills is no magic trick. It requires them to work and study hard, but Gifford’s mom, Shelly, said her daughter does use tricks to help her be such a good speller.
“I think she has a way of creating little tricks in her mind to remember words, and I think the wide variety of books she reads helps her,” Shelly Gifford said. “Usually, she’s reading between three and five at the same time.”
Voracious reading skills is another key for most of the contestants, including Anna Koffler, 14. The Barstow eighth-grader enjoys poetry and has been a part of a Shakespearean acting troupe for several years. All of it helps with her with spelling.
“I kind of like that spelling is something I can innately do but studied too for this, because it’s harder words,” Koffler said.
Dylan Little, the Mid-Continent Public Library community programming manager, coordinates the Jackson-Clay Spelling Bee. He said the event is always fun and that local participation is growing.
For the 2018 bee, there were more than 100 schools who sent students to one of two regional competitions the library system hosted in conjunction with the Kansas City Public Library — about 15 more than 2017.
“Any time we can encourage education in any form is a great opportunity for us,” Little said. “Getting the chance to facilitate this event and support spellers is a win-win.”
For Benson, there’s no fooling around — even though his personal favorite word to spell is “quixotic,” which is appropriate because he sees spelling as something of an adventure.
“I like that it gets you places,” Benson said. “It improves your vocabulary while taking you places that you never thought you could go to.”
Benson also has some experience with this championship thing. He won last year’s Jackson-Clay Spelling Bee and is eager for a return trip to the national spelling bee.
“It was a very good experience last year, one that I am going to cherish the rest of my life,” Benson said.
Next year, though, it definitely will be someone else’s chance. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is only open to students in second through eighth grades.