For nearly 15 minutes, totaling 18 rounds, Jack Lado and Aashray Mandala matched each other, word for word, almost effortlessly spelling words like “bimillenary,” “nymphosis” and “fata morgana.”
In the end, it was a relatively short word – “bollo,” a type of bun commonly eaten in Latin American countries – that was the winning word for Jack, a seventh-grader at East Grand Rapids Middle School. He won the 41st annual Greater Grand Rapids Spelling Bee March 27 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. He will represent West Michigan at the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 27-June 2.
For the evening, Jack spelled 38 words without a mistake, as his father, Derek, kept a list of every word he spelled on his cellphone. Jack, who finished fourth at last year’s spelling bee, admitted feeling a surge of nervousness after Aashray, the 2017 champion from Grand Haven’s Lakeshore Middle School, misspelled “myringitis” moments earlier, opening the way for Jack to win the title.
“I kind of rushed it, but it ended up being right,” he said. Both students were visibly tired as the Bee came to a dramatic end at nearly 10 p.m. When asked how it felt to win, he said “I was very relieved and very excited.”
Jack said that he spent a great deal of time preparing for the bee. “I try to study the root word, as well as language patterns,” he said. “The experience (of being there last year) helped.” Although he already spends about an hour a night on spelling words, he plans to “amp it up a little bit” to get ready for D.C.
Twenty students from six counties took part in the spelling bee finals, including seven who had been to the finals the year before. The finalists, who ranged from fourth to eighth grade, were determined through more than 160 school-level spelling bees and 21 regional competitions, said MaryNell Baldwin, one of the bee’s organizers and a professional development consultant at Kent ISD.
Niharikaa Dhage, an eighth-grade student at Kentwood’s Crestwood Middle School who was a finalist for the third straight year, finished third. Bennett Geshel, a seventh-grader at North Rockford Middle School who competed last year, placed fourth.
Other finalists from Kent ISD area schools included: Lindy Bujak, Duncan Lake Middle School in Caledonia; James Dantuma, Breton Downs Elementary in East Grand Rapids; Rachael Yeager, Forest Hills Central Woodlands; Dinesh Ravikumar, Forest Hills Northern Middle School; Jackson Schaedig, Lowell Middle School; Abraham Jager, Cross Creek Charter Academy; Blake Bouwman, Excel Charter Academy; Lucius Noe, North End Home School; and Boris Lalic, Ridge Park Charter Academy. Blake Bouwman was in the Spelling Bee finals for the fourth consecutive year, and Jackson Schaedig was also a returning participant.
An added perk for this year’s finalists was the opportunity to see the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s production of “Akeelah and the Bee” and be guests at a backstage party. The Civic Theatre served as one of the Spelling Bee’s main sponsors, with members of the cast and production crew attending.
Besides the Civic Theatre and Gerald R. Ford Museum, sponsors included Kent ISD, the Michigan Education Trust, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Old National Bank, Family Fare Supermarkets, SET SEG School Insurance Specialists and JSJ Corporation.