By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Stone-cold speller Maria Kaltchenko came out on top in the Lee County Spelling Bee for the second consecutive year Thursday afternoon at the Hancock Leadership Center.
The contest went for more rounds than any in recent memory, according to Dr. Derwood Tutor.
“I think this was as long as we’ve ever gone,” he said. “They ran out the list.”
Before the contest, spellers are given a list of words they may be asked to spell, but if the spellers run through the list of words, the bee’s pronouncer must resort to the dictionary.
Third-place speller Hanqi Qian, a seventh-grader at Guntown Middle School, was eliminated in Round 9. Maria and second-place speller Emalee Blaylock, a Mooreville Middle School seventh-grader, battled for 16 more rounds before Emalee fell in the 25th round.
Maria then spelled “picaresque” in the 26th round to put the final nail in the coffin.
“I studied the list, same as last year,” she said. “My mom helped, calling out words.”
With the top two finishers allowed to proceed, Emalee will join Maria at the Mid-South competition.
“I’m very excited,” Emalee said. “The words with double letters were tricky, like ‘salaam,’ but in practice I tried to make associations with those kinds of words so I would remember them.”
While it will be Emalee’s first trip to the next level, Maria competed last year, after besting second-place finisher Jacob Roland of Guntown in a bee lasting 11 rounds.
“It’s much more intense,” Maria said. “I think I’ll be more prepared because I already have a better idea of how hard it is.”
The Mid-South Spelling Bee is slated for March 1 and will host spellers from five states. The champion will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.