Friends and family of Clara Wicoff cheered her on Wednesday during rounds two and three of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Iola student was the 2012 champion of the Great Bend Tribune’s Sunflower Spelling Bee, making her one of three Kansans at the national bee that got under way Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
This was her third trip to the national bee and because she just finished the eighth grade it will be her last. Family members wore Scripps National Spelling Bee “Farewell Tour” T-shirts with her contestant number, 91.
Spellers were on stage twice Wednesday, and Wicoff nailed both of her words, “shuddering” and “fraise.” Spellers also took a written test on computers on Tuesday, and their test scores were combined with on-stage scores; only the top 50 or so out of 278 advanced to semifinals on Thursday. Wicoff didn’t make it to the semifinals, but will be cheering for several spelling friends who will continue today. Among them are the other two Kansas entrants, 14-year-old Emma Steimle of Lawrence and 10-year-old Vanya Shivashanker of Olathe.
Bee Director Paige Kimble announced the semifinalists shortly after the conclusion of round 3. “A few of you are going to be very excited; many more are going to be disappointed,” Kimble said. She noted this year’s preliminary rounds were more challenging, according to contestants. Five people score the maximum 25 points on the written test last year, but this year only one turned in a perfect score, and that was Miss Shivashanker from Olathe. Her older sister Kavya Shivashanker was the 2009 Bee champion.
“We have that many of you were charmed by Lori Ann Madison,” the Bee’s youngest-ever contestant, Kimble said. The home-school second grader from Virginia is 6 years old. She did not make it to the semifinals.
Wicoff was disappointed not to be in the semifinals but had a lot of positive experiences to share from her “farewell tour.”
“It’s great to be here and I definitely loved the trip,” Wicoff said. This year her family visited Arlington National Cemetery for the first time. She also attended a birthday party for one speller, and got to hang out with her “spelling friends.” A band of spellers who call themselves the Squishy Carrots got together to toast one another with carrot juice. Dr. Jacques Bailly, the official pronouncer for the national bee, was an honorary Carrot. “We’re all just rooting for a Carrot to win,” Wicoff said.
There were a few minutes of levity during the bee. Young spellers sometimes greeted the pronouncer with, “Hi, Dr. Bailly,” or “Howdy,” or even, “’Sup?” One girl took the stage and spelled, “H-I.”
Spellers are allowed to ask questions about the word origin and other information. One speller asked, “Could you tell me how to spell it, please?”
“Maybe later,” Bailly said. In fact, the speller needed no help with “Damoclean.”
Speller No. 126, Jack Pasche from Michigan, misspoke on the second letter of his word, “idiosyncratically,” and he knew it. After saying “I-O,” the speller knew he could not backtrack and add the D. Gathering his dignity, he rattled off a series of letters, throwing in a number and an apostrophe for good measure. The audience laughed, then laughed again when the judge said “That is incorrect,” and Dr. Bailly read the correct spelling.