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Spelling bee champ defends title

3/9/2014

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

He sat in a chair all alone for a full 20 minutes and watched two youngsters spell word after word as they battled it out for second and third place.

A smile crossed the face of Sterling Hollond, and he breathed a big sigh of relief.

The seventh-grader from Leavenworth County successfully had defended his state spelling bee title of a year ago, and it hadn't been easy.

After missing the word "vitiate" in the 10th round, Hollond took advantage of a second chance and spelled three more words correctly en route to claiming the top prize for the second consecutive year at the Sunflower Spelling Bee at Fort Hays State University.

The word that ultimately assured him of a second straight trip to Washington, the site of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May, was "acquiescence."

Hollond said he never had heard the word, but sounded it out in his mind by syllable, then slowly -- and correctly -- spelled it for the judges, who gave him an affirmative nod.

Then it hit him he really had won again, beating out 78 other spellers.

When Hollond missed his word in the 10th round Saturday, he said he thought his chances were slim to none to repeat as champion.

"I figured one of those would go on," Hollond said of the five other spellers who also all eventually missed to give that entire group new life.

Luke Gilmore from Labette County was within a letter of claiming the 2014 state title when he correctly spelled "epicedium," a funeral song, during the 10th round. He was the only speller to get his word correct in the round.

To be declared the champion, however, Gilmore would have to spell one more word correctly.

"Epochal," an adjective that means uniquely significant, tripped him up, and all six spellers returned to the stage for another round.

Three spellers, including Gilmore, went out in that next round, and the revived Hollond didn't misstep again.

Then it took some precocious young spellers 20 more minutes to determine who would earn the runner-up medal (and alternate national-qualifying status), and who would take home the second runner-up prize.

Asruth Suryanarayanan, a 10-year-old fourth-grader from Johnson County, finally spelled "nonage" correctly to beat Sukesh Kamesh, an 8-year-old third-grader from Kingman County.

Like Hollond, Suryanarayanan made good on a second chance.

He actually had gone out in the fourth round, but he was reinstated when he won an appeal.

Suryanarayanan then stayed alive clear to the end of his back-and-forth spell-a-thon with Kamesh for second place.

Hollond said the second state title felt just as good as the first, and he hopes to compete in the bee again next year.

Ellis County's competitor finished in the top 10 spellers at Saturday's event.

Eric Adams, an eighth-grader at Hays Middle School, made it to the sixth round before going out on the word "trepak," a Ukrainian folk dance.