Jackson County Spelling Bee runs out of words for finalists

The Jackson County Spelling Bee started at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch.

It isn’t over yet.

“We did over 60 rounds,” said Mary Olive Thompson, a library outreach manager and co-coordinator of the spelling bee. “We ran out of words.”

The showdown will resume March 8 at a library location to be determined. The winner gets a ticket to Washington, D.C., in May for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Twenty-five students started Saturday’s championship round. After 19 rounds, only two were still standing: Sophia Hoffman, a fifth-grader at Highland Park Elementary in Lee’s Summit, and Kush Sharma, a seventh-grader at Frontier School of Innovation, a Kansas City charter school.

Word after word, Kush and Sophia ran through a list provided by the national bee. When they broke for lunch, bee officials picked about 20 extra words out of their Merriam-Webster’s 11th Edition. Just in case.

When the spellers finished the list, they buzzed through the bonus words, too.

“It was legendary,” Thompson said.

Saturday went 66 rounds. Last year’s bee ended after 21 rounds, she said.

But when the additional words were spent, the officials didn’t want to pull more from the dictionary in the middle of the bee. One speller might get a really tough word and the other a relatively easy one. It wouldn’t have been fair.

Plus, said Thompson, “about 2 o’clock, I think we were all really tired.”

A.K. Sharma, Kush’s father, said the spelling bee was his son’s first at the county level.

“He’s very good, very intelligent. … She was very intelligent, too.”

Next time will be tougher, he said, because the students won’t be working off the Scripps-approved list of 300 words. The words could come from anywhere in the 1,664-page dictionary.

“Memorize a dictionary? Come on,” A.K. Sharma said.

Among the words Kush, 13, spelled correctly in the late rounds Saturday: “scherzo,” “fantoccini” and “intaglio.”

He said the hardest word for him was “a French word; I have no idea how to pronounce it. It was a long word.”

Both he and Sophia missed that one, he said.

Sophia, 11, thought “schadenfreude” was tricky. But she nailed it, along with “mahout” and “barukhzy.”

She’ll have special help in the next two weeks, said her father, Mark Hoffman. Sophia’s older sister, Jordan Hoffman, won the Jackson County bee three years in a row.

“It is very fun, and she’s always helping me find new words that are challenging,” Sophia said.

In the final rounds Saturday, Thompson said, “Sophia and Kush’s eyes were just bright and glowing. It was almost magical.”