FORT WAYNE – It took 16 rounds of words such as paradox, prosaic and persimmon to winnow the field of 15 spellers, but at the end, Noble County’s Kaelyn Bender stood alone – again.
Bender correctly spelled legislation Saturday to win the 59th Annual Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee, drawing cheers, hugs and tears from her family. The win – her second in a row – means she will represent northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio at the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the end of May.
And don’t let the championship word fool you. To get to the 16th round, Bender correctly spelled words such as obsequious, bureaucracy, and koan. There were also streusel, sortie and schnauzer.
Bender is an eighth-grader at St. Mary of the Assumption School in Avilla. Last year she made it to the third round of the national bee.
Her teacher, Cindy Stahl, said the national bee lit a fire inside Bender.
I think it just made her want it even more, Stahl said. She came back just ready to do it again. She worked incredibly hard – she studied triple what she did last year.
Bender said she didn’t understand what a big deal the national bee was until she got there. The national bee is carried live on ESPN.
I realized I want to do better, Bender said.
She even sought retired East Noble teacher Bob Avery, who taught etymology. Because not even champion spellers can memorize every word, they study etymology – where words come from – to better guess how a word is spelled, even if the word is unfamiliar.
Standing under the spotlights in front of television cameras and a crowd of about 80 people at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center Recital Hall trying to spell a word like synchronous, can be nerve wracking, and some spellers gripped the microphone tightly. Others tapped their toes. One asked for the language of origin and the definition, then used the time to write the word with his finger on his name tag. Another used her finger to write the letters on her left hand.
Bender asked for the language of origin of each word, the definition and for it to be used in a sentence.
That was mostly so I could have time to process the word and make sure I didn’t stumble on something I knew, she said.
The earlier rounds saw some spellers fall on words such as buccaneer and amenable, while others survived challenges like colloquial and impetuous.
The middle eight rounds culled only three spellers. Then in Round 14, the bee switched to the alternate list of words, and three of the five spellers immediately fell, missing servile, reprimand and unnerve.
Williams County’s Meili Leung, Allen County’s Lwin Moe Aung and Paulding County’s Derek Reeb all tied for third place.
That left just Bender and Liana Reinhard, an eighth-grader at Kingdom Academy in Wells County, for the 15th round. Bender correctly spelled escalator, while Reinhard misspelled germane. That moved Bender to the 16th round and legislation. Had she misspelled it, both Bender and Reinhard would have spelled again.
Bender’s father, Craig Bender, was at a loss for words.
You can’t believe She yeah, he said. It’s pretty incredible.
Craig Bender said Kaelyn chose to work as hard as she did herself, though her mother, Shaney Bender, spent countless hours helping her study.
She’s taken the initiative. We didn’t push her at all, he said. I can’t believe it. I’m incredibly proud.
Bender’s win comes with a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the $100 Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a one-year subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, and an all-expenses paid trip for her and an adult to Washington, D.C., for the national bee, which begins May 28.
The Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee was presented by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and IPFW in partnership with Barrett & McNagny.