By Chris Kieffer | NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Jennifer Clifton didn’t punctuate her victory in Monday’s Lee County Spelling Bee with an emotional outburst.
After correctly spelling the word “annotate” to clinch the win, the Mooreville Elementary eighth-grader quietly walked back to her chair, slipped a quick smile and briefly chatted with second-place finisher Azaria Woods.
It culminated a back-and-forth duel between the two girls, who matched each other for five rounds after the other four contestants were eliminated during the first five rounds.
Jennifer finally had her opportunity in the 11th round when she spelled “niche,” and Azaria, a sixth-grader at Milam Elementary, missed “perseverance.” The Mooreville student then nailed “annotate” to clinch it.
“I kept worrying that I’d have a hard word, and I’d misspell it,” said Jennifer, who admitted she was nervous but that she prayed to stay calm.
Monday’s competition featured the top three finishers from both the Tupelo and the Lee County School districts’ district-level contests.
Saltillo Elementary’s Hanqui Qian and Lawhon’s Randi Rankin were eliminated in the third round. Each had won their school district’s bee, and Randi was last year’s county champion.
Mooreville Elementary’s Emmalee Blaylock and Milam’s Aaron Kwag were each knocked out in the fifth round. Emmalee, a fifth-grader, later won a tiebreaker to claim third place.
Jennifer will now advance to the MidSouth Spelling Bee March 3 in Memphis. The winner of that will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington, D.C.
“She is such a smart girl,” said grandmother Nancy Beck. “We knew she could do it.”
Jennifer’s parents could not attend because her father was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. She said that she was thinking about him throughout the competition.
“I wanted to make my parents proud,” she said.
Beck texted Jennifer’s mother at the hospital to tell her that her daughter had won the contest.
“Awesome,” she replied.