After 15 rounds in the Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee, 13-year-old Joseph Benson of Kansas City stood alone on stage. All he needed to best his second-place finish last year was to get one more word right in Round 16.
And he nailed it, thanks to his grandmother, Bobbie Nunez, a former South Dakota state spelling champ who spent hours quizzing him.
Without her help and the support of his family, Joseph said, he wouldn’t be heading off at the end of May to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the Washington, D.C., area.
“I’m happy because I made my district proud — North Kansas City School District,” Joseph said after his victory ceremony on stage at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library. Mid-Continent Public Library was co-sponsor.
As he beamed on stage, his friend Sophia Hoffman was consoled by her family in the fourth row.
Champion in both 2015 and 2016, the Lee’s Summit eighth-grader had been trying to match her older sister’s record. Jordan Hoffman won three in a row in 2010-2012.
But Sophia fell out in the eighth round. “Regatta” got her.
This was her last year of eligibility.
Joseph’s uncle, Jay Nunez, said his nephew was likely saddened by Sophia’s early departure.
“He almost wanted her to win. He likes her a lot,” Nunez said. “He has a good heart.”
The year’s competition began with 118 school champions. Two divisional spelling bees whittled that number to 23 in divisional competitions three weeks ago.
Completed in less than three hours, this year’s bee was far shorter than the marathon one that made national news in 2014. That year judges ran out of words after 66 rounds.
Sophia was one of the two finalists that day. After the bee’s word pile was replenished two weeks later, she and Kush Sharma went on to compete for 29 more rounds, with Kush finishing first.