Silently fixated on the palm of her hand, 13-year-old Sophia Hoffman of Lee’s Summit meticulously traced the word “sequacious.”
“That is correct,” said Mary Brooks, the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s head judge.
“I was really nervous because they’re very difficult words and people were going out all over,” Sophia said of the contestants forced out of the competition. “It wasn’t a word that I recognized, but I just put it together with what I knew.”
It was Sophia’s second time on the National Spelling Bee stage, and the second time she was eliminated from the competition despite spelling all her words correctly onstage.
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To move through to Thursday’s finals, judging took into account the scores from Wednesday’s live, onstage spelling as well as a written test taken the day before.
Sophia was one of four Kansas City area kids who found themselves in the same boat.
Another area entrant, Samuel Cheslik from Peculiar, was one of the spellers eliminated in the onstage rounds. Samuel, 14, said he didn’t recognize the word given to him: “unconscionable.”
But after high-fiving his peers on his way off the stage, Samuel said he’d be back Thursday in the audience to cheer on his peers.
Beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday, 284 spellers from across the country stood onstage to spell words such as “recrudescence,” “syzygy” and “primogeniture.” Initially, they drew words from a pool they knew and had prepared for. But in the afternoon round, judges picked words from a list that the spellers were not given access to, nearly doubling the morning’s eliminations.
This year was the last chance for Peyton Wiewel and Samuel to compete in the bee because they are both in eighth grade, the last eligible school year.
“Even though I didn’t make the finals, I’m still really proud of myself for getting both of my words right,” Peyton said.
For the rest of the Kansas City kids, they still have a few more shots, and they are excited to start preparing for 2017.
They all hope to follow in the footsteps of Johnson County sisters Vanya and Kavya Shivashankar, who won the national championship in 2015 and 2009.
Amrith Samuel, 12, of Olathe, said he was proud for getting this far his first time in the bee and was planning on coming back next year fighting.
“I’m gonna study harder, put in more hours,” Amrith said.
A gracious competitor, Peyton had some advice for any future spellers.
“I would just tell them to do however much that they want to do,” she said. “Compete at the level that they want to, and just make it an enjoyable experience.”
The elite group of 45 spellers who made it through to Thursday’s finals will begin competing at 9 a.m. Central time, aired live on ESPN2. The live coverage will move to ESPN at 7 p.m., and the remaining spellers will compete for $40,000 in prize money from Scripps, as well as additional prizes from Kindle, Merriam-Webster and Encyclopaedia Britannica.