KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A marathon spelling bee between two Kansas City-area students who exhausted the initial word list last month ended after 29 more rounds Saturday when the eventual runner-up stumbled over the word “stifling.”
For more than an hour, seventh-grader Kush Sharma and fifth-grader Sophia Hoffman went toe-to-toe in the continuation of the Jackson County Spelling Bee, which began two weeks ago but had to be extended after the two breezed through the word list provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, then 20 more words picked out of the dictionary.
The contestants had no problem correctly spelling words like “boodle” and “slobber,” often asking the moderator for a word’s origin, definition or part of speech. But at the end of the 28th round, Sophia appeared puzzled when attempting to spell “stifling,” and even more so when the bell rang to indicate she had gotten it wrong.
Following a lengthy break to listen to audio of the round to make sure Sophia had heard the word correctly, the judges ruled that she had misspelled it, meaning Kush could claim the title if he correctly spelled his word in the 29th round.
After being given his final word, “definition,” Kush drew chuckles from spectators watching from a different room in the Kansas City Public Library when he asked for the definition. He promptly spelled it correctly and won the bee.
The end of the match brought to a close a whirlwind two weeks for Kush and Sophia. Three days after they finished in a tie Feb. 22, both of their families were flown to New York to make appearances on CNN and “Good Morning America.”