Kenyan boy wins Spelling Bee, to represent West Michigan at national event in DC
Posted by Administrator on March 14, 2012
The 13-year-old eighth-grader at Kentwood’s Crestwood Middle School beat out 21 of the best spellers in a six-county area during Tuesday’s 34th annual Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee. The competition ultimately boiled down to Mwangi and Lauren Pham, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Caledonia’s Kraft Meadows Middle School, whose only misfire was in the final round when she mistakenly replaced the two “D’s” in the word trodden with “T’s.”
That left Mwangi to spell the final winning word, syllabus, which he rattled off confidently. He later confessed things were getting a little hot under his collar after pronouncer Esther Yff-Prins went off the official word list after only 10 rounds with 10 spellers still in the competition.
“Once they went off the list, I kind of got nervous,” Mwangi said. “I was hoping they wouldn’t go with the tricky words.”
Things got off to a slow start Tuesday with several appeals and a couple of miscues by officials, but heated up again after the bee got rolling. This year’s group of students also showed extreme patience with many taking advantage of all the clues due them, asking Yff-Prins to use words in a sentence, word origin and alternate pronunciations.
“Is there anything I haven’t asked you?” Harrison Witt, a student at East Rockford Middle School queried of Yff-Prins at one point.
Mwangi, the son of Reuben and Ruth WaMaina, of Rockford, now heads off to the nation’s capital May 27 – June 1 where the stakes get even higher. Top prizes at the national event, the final round of which is scheduled to be televised at 8-10 p.m. May 31 on ESPN, include $30,000 cash, a $5,000 scholarship and $2,500 U.S. savings bond for the winner.
Mwangi said he’ll likely ramp up his preparation for the national bee. He said he expects the competition will be stiffer and officials may test participants’ knowledge of words not on the usual spelling guides much sooner than during the school and regional events he won to earn his spot at Tuesday’s contest.
“I think I’ll use the dictionary a lot more,” he said. “I want to be prepared for that.”
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