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Though there have been many fierce spelling bee contestants, few can claim to have done what two Jackson County, Missouri, finalists did on Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - Buzz their way through all the words provided by the Scripps National Bee, as well as, twenty others that the judges hastily picked from the latest edition of the Merriam-Websters dictionary, during the short lunch break.
The contest began like any other - Within 19 rounds, the pool of 25 contestants had been whittled down to two finalists - 11-year-old Sophia Hoffman and 13-year-old Kush Sharma. Believing that like previous years, they would be all wrapped up with a winner after an additional six to eight rounds, the judges began to fire away with the toughest words they could find in their arsenal.
But nothing seemed to faze the fifth-grader from Highland Park Elementary school and the 7th grader from the Frontier School of Innovation. Spellings of words such as 'scherzo',' 'fantoccini' and 'intaglio' seemed to just roll off of Kush's tongue. Sophia was no slouch either - she breezed through 'schadenfreude', 'mahout' and 'barukhzy' (afghan hound), as though they were part of her daily vocabulary! They both missed only one word, a French one that was so long that neither can pronounce it!
Four hours and 47 rounds later, the exhausted judges had not only run out of words, but also, energy. The contestants on the other hand seemed to be as animated as they were when the contest began and eager to keep going. Unfortunately, the judges made a decision to continue the contest on March 8th, instead of seeking out more words from the dictionary. That's because they were afraid that in their haste they may pull one that was relatively easy and unwittingly cause one contestant to have an unfair advantage. So for now, both the judges and the contestants have gone back to the drawing board - One to create a new list of challenging words and the other, to prepare for them.
What's amazing is that this is not the only rematch happening this year. A similar standoff occurred in Dekalb County, Illinois, where 13-year old Matthew Rogers and Keith Mokry, kept going for 3.5 hours. In this case, the spelling bee officials did not run out of words. They were all just exhausted and decided to continue the epic battle of words, at a later date.
Since only one contestant from each county is allowed to advance to the finals that will be held in Washington D.C. in May, two kids will eventually be 'defeated' - But in the eyes of the world, they are already winners!
Resources: cnn.com, latimes.com, stltoday.com