With a confident voice on Saturday, Ben Lenger, 12, slowly spelled out each letter to win his round-trip ticket to this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

“Blast! Names are weird,” Lenger said after the pronouncer posed what would be the victory word. “H-A-N-S-A-R-D, hansard,” Lenger said.

And just like that, after five long hours of giving it his best, Lenger was handed his green and golden trophy.

Ever since 1925, children across the nation have participated in local and regional spelling bees hoping to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the nation’s capital. This year, 11 million students across the nation will participate, but only one will come out a winner.

“I felt like I had no idea how to spell it … I asked for the alternate pronunciation and I knew it was an ‘A’ because no other vowel makes that sound,” Ben said

He held his trophy high up in the air and received his audience with a triumphant smile.

“To be quite honest, I’m not really feeling anything at all,” he said. “I’m just quite stunned.”

The seventh-grader from Sunset Middle School in Longmont, participated in last year’s Barnes & Noble Regional Spelling Bee but got out the competition on the first round with the word “bolero.” He is definitely happy he gave the competition another shot.

He felt much more confident about this year’s competition, “I convinced my mom to give me 24 hours of video game time and a stuffed Kerbal if I won,” Ben said. “I sort of I think she didn’t expect me to win, which is why she agreed to do that, so I sort of felt like I wanted to show her that I could win and that I really wanted that video game time.”

For the practice round, all 51 participants perched anxiously on their chairs as the judges called each of their names to come up to the stage. Last year’s champion, Cameron Keith, was among the many contestants to participate.

The 2017 Regional Spelling Bee, co-sponsored by Barnes & Noble Boulder, Boulder Valley School District, Boulder Valley Rotary and the University of Colorado Boulder College of Arts & Sciences, started at around 10 a.m. at the Nevin Platt Middle School Auditorium.

The audience was full of proud parents supporting their aspiring spellers.

Marlys Lietz, representing the office of advanced academic services, describes the bee as a way to help “all students of all levels to learn the beauty of vocabulary, both the spelling and the meaning of words and all the things you can learn from knowing words.”

The event’s pronouncer, Anne-Marie Reader, not only agreed with this, but also believes that the “spillover effect” of being a good speller goes beyond the satisfaction of winning a trophy.

“I think it teaches the kids tenacity and diligence and really putting the work in,” she said.

It was an emotional morning.

After every round, several spellers met their parents with disappointed faces and tears in their eyes. Difficult words such as “languorous” and “schemer” got many out of the competition. Thankfully, kids were greeted with caring hugs and joyful smiles from their family members.

Some of the judges shed some tears as well.

After angered parents complained about what they believe was the pronouncer’s mispronunciation of a word that led to their child’s early ouster from the competition, one of the judges had to leave the room to get some air.

The event was delayed several minutes until the problem was earnestly discussed among concerned judges and irritated parents.

“Can I please know what’s going on?” Ben said after anxiously sitting on his chair for about 10 minutes alongside his only other competitor. One of the judges approached him and explained the situation; the event continued but the tension was still felt within the room.

At about 3:35 p.m. and 19 rounds later, the bee was finalized. Other than a fully funded trip to Bee Week this May, Ben received the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a one-year subscription to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online, and a copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.


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