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EXUBERANT: Iolas Wicoff wins third Sunflower Spelling Bee
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Showing their awards from the Great Bend Tribunes 2012 Sunflower Spelling Bee are, from left: Clara Wicoff, Iola eighth grader, champion; Michael Wilson, Overland Park eighth grader, first runner up; and Samuel Phipps, Shawnee sixth grader, second runner up.







The winner of the Great Bend Tribune’s 2012 Sunflower Spelling Bee is Clara Wicoff, an eighth grader from Iola. This is the third time for her to win the bee and advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

In the twelfth round, Wicoff correctly spelled "woad," a plant in the mustard family that’s leaves are used in a blue dye, and then won the bee by spelling "toadyism" after Johnson County’s Michael Wilson tripped on "olid." Toadyism is the act of being a flatterer or toady, and olid means foul-spelling.

"I thought I knew it, and when I got it right I wanted to cry, I’m so happy ... I guess exuberant!" Wicoff said after the bee. The first person she planned to text after the awards presentation wrapped up was Nicholas Rushow in Ohio, who she met him at last year’s national bee. Earlier in the day he’d sent her a text saying he’d won his regional bee and would be returning to the week-long 2012 bee, that starts at the end of May.

Wilson received a trophy and other prizes as first runner up. Second runner up was Samuel Phipps, also from Johnson County. With only four spellers left, three were Johnson County champions, including Zachary Winterman, who dropped out in round six after stumbling on the word "solder." Phipps lasted for one more round, missing on "menagerie."

Wicoff and Wilson battled on for five more rounds, with her spelling "qwerty," "jimberjawed," "duchy" and "fluctuant," while Wilson spelled "sabermetrics," "nimbed," "brockage" and "tierer."

Wicoff stuck to the form she has shown for five years of Sunflower Bees: asking for the definition, language of origin or alternate pronunciations, repeating the word out loud and tracing it on the palm of her hand with a finger.

She said she’s "superstitious" about sticking to her routine. She also wore several good luck charms, including a bee necklace, and some green beads since it was St. Patrick’s Day. At home, she has tiles that spell out "champion" and other words on her bedroom ceiling. But the real secret to her success has been lots of studying and reading. (Right now she’s rereading "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.)

Experience helps, too. Asked how her approach to the bee has changed over the years, Wicoff said, "I think I’ve tried to make sure I knew what the word meant. I listen to the definitions more."

That will hold true for her third trip to the national bee, where Wicoff will be contestant number 91. "I’m going to have a better idea of what to study and how much to study," she said. "I won’t be as nervous. I’m going to enjoy myself more."

For her first-place effort on Saturday she will receive a trip to the national bee for herself and one of her parents, the Sunflower Spelling Bee champion trophy, an overnight stay at Cheyenne Bottoms Inn and Suites in Hoisington, a Kindle Touch and case from the Charles H. Morris Award of Excellence, $20 gift certificate, Samuel Sugarman Award certificate and prize, Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online. All spellers received a participation medal and a gift bag featuring gift certificates and items from area businesses and organizations.

This was the fifth annual Sunflower Spelling Bee, which serves as the "state" bee for three-fourths of Kansas and is sponsored by the Tribune. Wicoff has made it to all of them as a champion for Allen County, and has now won four dictionaries, which she can share with three younger brothers, if any are interested in trying to make it to next year’s Sunflower Bee. As an eighth grader, this was Wicoff’s last year of eligibility.