It didn’t take long for Brenna Bonham to snatch first place at the Sedgwick County Spelling Bee after a quick-moving face-off with fellow 11-year-old Malar Muthukumar in the final round.
Ghastly. Viability. Nuance. Veteran. Erasable.
When given “abduction” — the winning word — Brenna replied: “Definition, please.”
She listened closely. Paused. Then murmured her response into a microphone from her perch on the stage.
“It’s exciting winning,” said Brenna, a Maize South Middle School sixth-grader who earned top honors at the bee, held Saturday at Kapaun Mount Carmel Catholic High School in Wichita. The annual showdown tests the spelling smarts of students from public, private, home or parochial elementary and middle schools countywide.
“This is my first time doing the county spelling bee.”
Malar, a sixth-grader at the Independent School, took home the second-place prize. Wichita Collegiate School fourth-grader Harun Raffi, age 9, won third.
Sedgwick County bee director John Hammans said this year’s opening round was especially brutal for spellers, who were faced with a rash of difficult-to-spell words.
“It was a bloodbath. About half of the participants were eliminated,” Hammans said.
About 90 minutes in, the competition was pared to 11.
A correct spelling of “apathy.” A letter left out of “enthusiasm.”
Then successful recitations of “shrapnel” and “implement” and “affinity.”
“The word is ‘blithe,’ ” the proctor told the next spelling bee aficionado.
“Can you use it in a sentence?” the student asked, followed by “May I have the definition?”
A deep breath: “B-l-y-t-h-e?”
“I’m sorry,” was the response. “It’s spelled with an ‘i.’ ”
Within another half-hour, spellers were down to the final three.
Third-place finisher Harun fell to “slanderous,” ending the word with an incorrect suffix.
Then Malar missed “erasable,” following the word war with Brenna.
“It made me kind of nervous,” Brenna said of her final round, “but I’d have taken second place.”
“I was nervous, too,” she said.
At least two of the three Sedgwick County winners will advance to the Sunflower Spelling Bee, a regional contest to be held March 2 in Hays.
The winner there will go to Scripps National Spelling Bee, held in Washington, D.C., which is May 26 through June 1, Hammans said.
So what’s the hardest word the winners have had to spell?
“I don’t even know if I can pronounce it,” 9-year-old Harun said.
That’s a phobia — something a person is scared of — right?
“Yeah,” he said.
It’s the fear of the number 13.
Harun suggested starting easy with words like “away” and “lock,” though.
And with ones you can pronounce.