The Bee Goes into OT!

An extraordinary Jackson County Spelling Bee — down to two students who’ve survived 66 championship rounds — will resume Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 9 a.m. in our Central Library.

Sophia Hoffman, a fifth-grader at Highland Park Elementary School in Lee’s Summit, and Kush Sharma, a seventh-grader at Frontier School of Innovation in Kansas City, will pick up where they left off after four-plus hours of competition on Saturday, February 22. The day had started with a championship field of 25.

The two finalists went head to head for 47 rounds. After they’d worked their way through the list of words provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, then through an additional 20 words picked from Merriam Webster’s 11th-edition dictionary, officials called a temporary halt to the duel and set the March 8 continuation — overtime, if you will. Competition will resume in Central’s fifth-floor Helzberg Auditorium.

Mary Olive Thompson, the Library’s outreach manager and co-coordinator of the championship bee, said new words will be drawn from a separate Scripps list and from Merriam Webster’s. Given Hoffman’s and Sharma’s proficiency, “We probably need an additional 150-200 words just to be safe,” she said.

The winner will advance to the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. Telecast by ESPN, it draws a global audience.

Only a little more than three years ago, the Jackson County bee was without a home. The (Independence, Missouri) Examiner had given up its sponsorship after several decades. Thompson, then working at the L.H. Bluford Branch, saw the Library’s involvement as a means of pulling Kansas City public schools into the competition, and Library Director Crosby Kemper III agreed. The Library became a co-presenter with the Mid-Continent Public Library, the Local Investment Commission (LINC), and the Kansas City Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The bee, however, still lacks a sponsoring organization to cover or defray the costs of getting the local winner and an accompanying adult to Washington, D.C. “We have managed to get by the last three years with the help of an anonymous donor, but there is no guarantee that funding will continue,” Thompson says.

She expressed hope that the interest in this year’s bee will attract a long-term sponsor.

The spellers with their families.