Bee wonder kids wage spellbinding wars of words

Two young contestants in a US spelling bee competition left their audience spellbound when they verbally duelled for more than four hours and 60 rounds on stage, before stunned organisers were forced to call it quits when they ran out of words with which to challenge the pair.

Sophia Hoffman, 11, and Kush Sharma, 13, will return to the stage next month to resume their epic battle once organisers of the Jackson County Spelling Bee in Missouri have had a chance to comb through the dictionary and compile a list of potential new words to stump the children.

Twenty five students started Saturday's championship round at the Kansas City Public Library. They were battling it out for one spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, in May.

After 19 rounds, the group had been whittled down to just two children: Sophia, a year 5 student at Highland Park Elementary School, and Kush, a year 7 student at Frontier School of Innovation.

Last year the winner conquered in 21 rounds. But Saturday's battle proved to be a war of attrition, with Sophia and Kush matching each other word for word, round after round.

Kush rattled off the spellings of "scherzo", "fantoccini" and "intaglio" with ease.

He told the The Kansas City Star newspaper that 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 thought "schadenfreude" was tricky. But she nailed it, along with "mahout" and "barukhzy".

As the rounds progressed, organisers realised nervously that they were reaching the end of the Scripps-approved list of 300 words.

During the lunch break, bee officials picked out an additional 20 words from the Merriam-Webster's 11th Edition, The Kansas City Star reported.

But the children ticked off those words, too.

"We did over 60 rounds," Mary Olive Thompson, the spelling bee's joint co-ordinator, told the newspaper.

"We ran out of words," she said.

"It was legendary.

"Sophia and Kush's eyes were just bright and glowing. It was almost magical."

Ms Thompson said officials did not want to pull more words from the dictionary in the middle of the competition because it might not have been fair.

Plus, "about 2 o'clock, I think we were all really tired", she said.

Kush told CNN that he would work hard in the lead-up to the rematch and would study every free minute of the day if he scored a place in the national bee.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how far Sophia can push me and how far my skills can go," he said.

While the most difficult word for Sophia was "schadenfreude" - describing the enjoyment one can get from someone else's bad luck - she apparently did not feel it.

"Kush worked really hard. I wish we could both go [to the national competition]," she told CNN.

The two will go head to head again on March 8.

On the same day, a similar showdown was taking place in the DeKalb County Spelling Bee in Illinois between Matthew Rogers, 13, and Keith Mokry, 14.

The pair battled for more than 3½ hours and 74 rounds, spelling obscure words such as "trepak" (a Ukrainian folk dance), "issei" (a Japanese immigrant) and "weimaraner" (a kind of dog), the Daily Chronicle reported.

The contest nearly came to an end when Matthew misspelled "punctilio", defined as a small point of procedure.

But Matthew’s parents appealed to the judges, who agreed that the announcer had mispronounced the word.

The contestants received a standing ovation when organisers announced they would continue to spell-off in two weeks.

"They had been on stage for three and a half hours," Amanda Christensen, the spelling bee’s co-ordinator, told the newspaper.

"They hadn’t had lunch. It was time to call a rematch."

smh.com.au

The story Bee wonder kids wage spellbinding wars of words first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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