Local

Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee has enough words to decide a winner

Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee winner Sophia Hoffman (right) got a hug Saturday from sister Jordan Hoffman, a three-time national spelling bee contestant. The event was at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library.
Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee winner Sophia Hoffman (right) got a hug Saturday from sister Jordan Hoffman, a three-time national spelling bee contestant. The event was at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The Kansas City Star

At least this time they didn’t run out of words.

As 21 of the area’s best spellers fidgeted in their seats Saturday at the championship of the Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee, parents snapped pictures, downed swigs of water and chewed their fingernails.

One by one, their children walked to the stage at the Country Club Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library, adjusted the black microphone and fixed a determined gaze at a table of judges.

A gray-haired man known as the pronouncer leaned into his microphone.

“The word,” he said with a dramatic pause, “is wikiwiki.”

Dressed in a red-hooded sweatshirt, last year’s winner, Kush Sharma, 14, an eighth-grader at the Frontier School of Innovation in Kansas City, calmly asked several questions before correctly spelling the Hawaiian word that means quickly.

As he walked back to his seat, he got a fist bump from 12-year-old Sophia Hoffman, a sixth-grader at Highland Park Elementary in Lee’s Summit.

And why not? The two became friends after an extended duel last year ended in a tie. That competition became national news after the two lasted so long — 66 rounds, to be exact — that they caused the organizers to run out of words.

“It was kind of cool because I had never heard of that happening before,” said Sophia.

Two weeks and 29 rounds later, Kush finally won after Sophia stumbled on “stifling.” Kush then correctly spelled “definition” to claim the title. He represented Kansas City in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, lasting more than 40 rounds.

“It was pretty fun,” Kush said. “A cool experience. At first I thought it wasn’t such a big deal. Later I realized it was a big deal.”

Kush and Sophia appeared together on “Good Morning America” and did interviews with national news outlets, including CNN and National Public Radio.

“Last year was an amazing experience,” said Sophia. “I had so much fun getting to know Kush.”

And this year, even better.

After five hours of spelling, Sophia won by spelling “nomancy.” (It means divination by letters.)

The area spelling bee became a two-county competition this year.

“Clay County hasn’t historically participated in the national spelling bee,” said spelling bee coordinator Mary Olive Thompson. “They didn’t have a sponsor. … We wanted to extend (ours) to them.”

More than 100 spellers entered the competition and 21 advanced to the championship.

Thompson said organizers made sure they had enough words this year. In addition to a larger list of words provided by Scripps (500, as opposed to 300 last year), “we have pulled words from the competitive dictionary to have on hand in case we exhaust the list.”

Words this year included layette, linseed, bungalow, knapsack, hassock, daffodil, belladonna, panzer, embargo, cognition and croquet.

The Jackson-Clay bee is presented by the Kansas City Public Library in partnership with the Mid-Continent Public Library and Local Investment Commission and is co-sponsored by the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and School Personnel.

To reach James A. Fussell, call 816-234-4460 or send email to jfussell@kcstar.com. Twitter: @jamesafussell.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments