UPDATED: Rankin County Middle Schooler Wins Mississippi State Spelling Bee | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

UPDATED: Rankin County Middle Schooler Wins Mississippi State Spelling Bee

Around 50 middle-schoolers ranging from ages 9 to 14 competed in the 2018 Mississippi Spelling Bee Jackson State University on March 13, 2018.

Around 50 middle-schoolers ranging from ages 9 to 14 competed in the 2018 Mississippi Spelling Bee Jackson State University on March 13, 2018. Photo by Stephen Wilson.

— Around 50 middle-schoolers ranging from ages nine to 14, along with their parents and supporters, filled the Rose E. McCoy auditorium at Jackson State University today for the 2018 Mississippi Spelling Bee. The winner, Vaibhavi Mahajan, 13, of Northwest Rankin Middle School, will advance to the National Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

"It's pretty crazy," Mahajan said of winning. Her championship word was "expropriate."

Iris Xue, 12, of Cleveland, Miss. placed second, and will serve in Mahajan's place should she not be available for the national bee.

In this competition, underway at press time, John Farrell of Mississippi Public Broadcasting announces a word for contestants to spell in his familiar radio voice. Before spelling a word, students can ask for the word to be used in a sentence, for its origin and for it to be repeated. Although Farrell speaks into a microphone, the acoustics do not project very far. The room maintains a level of quietness that you would find a university law library.

The crowd does not stir, either, and if you leave the auditorium while the spelling competition is underway, you are not permitted back into the room until there is a designated break. A sprinkling of late parents had to wait in the lobby as long as an hour, some missing their kids' appearance completely. The tone from the administration to the spellers is serious.

"Spelling—a lot of people want to say that it's a lost art. Because we have the computer and spell check, it's not interesting anymore, but you can't tell these kids that because they are serious," Joyce Helmick, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, told the Jackson Free Press.

"And parents spend hours working with their students and with their kids, and you can tell. They come in here, and the parents will have long sheets...," she added.

If a bell rings, the speller is out. A judge acknowledges a correctly spelled word simply by saying "correct," an indication for the spellers to go backstage and await the beginning of the next round to reclaim their seats on stage. Once the competition dwindles down, spellers remain in sight, standing in front of the chairs on stage until it's their turn.

Students have different styles. Some fire the words off without asking for clarification. Others pretend to write the word out on their hands as they rattle off the letters one by one. One middle-schooler paced herself through 13 rounds, moving slowly and meticulously through the letters, even as she ironically spelled out the word hurriedly in one round.

Interspersed between spelling rounds are vocabulary rounds where students are given a word and two definitions from which they had to choose the correct one. For instance, a student had to decide if a bugle was either a weapon or the correct choice, an instrument.

Beginning at 10 a.m. and rolling into the lunch hour, students had a standout number of foods to spell, from chalupa and quesadilla to sukiyaki and bratwurst in later rounds. Early in the competition, a contestant misspelled the word anchovy.

By noon only nine spellers remained in round 11. It was a tough round, with only six moving into round 12. Because kids have to win in their district before making it to this stage, Helmick emphasizes that they are all already winners before taking the stage.

This story has been updated with the names of the first and second-place winners.

Email city reporter Ko Bragg at ko@jacksonfreepress.com.

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