Effort means S-U-C-C-E-S-S for Mississippi spelling bee


Following COVID-19 pandemic safety guidelines, masked competitors in the 75th annual Yuma County Spelling Bee are seated six feet apart in the first four rows on the floor, instead of being seated traditionally side-by-side on stage, inside the Schoening Conference Center at Arizona Western College, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Also, each competitor was allowed to be accompanied by one parent, who are seated behind the competitors, and socially distanced and masked. (Randy Hoeft/The Yuma Sun via AP)

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi was at risk of not sending a student to a national spelling bee, but organizers scrambled and found a new sponsor and a new coordinator to keep the local, district and state competitions going.

Columbus-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce director Wilson Beck told the Commercial Dispatch that the 2022 state bee will be held at Mississippi University for Women.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is held each summer in Washington and is shown on ESPN. Spellers must advance through several competitions to qualify.

Beck said that several weeks ago, school representatives began calling about plans for the Lowndes County bee. He quickly learned that the Mississippi Association of Educators had pulled out as longtime state sponsor, citing budget issues. Without a sponsor, there would be no state bee and no sanctioned county bees.

More than that, it meant for the first time since the Scripps spelling bee began in 1925, there would be a state without at least one representative at the national competition.

The Columbus-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce learned it had to find a sponsor to fund the state winner’s trip to the national bee and find a state coordinator. School bees must happen by mid-January, Beck said. County bees must be held by mid-February and the deadline for the state bee is March 31.

The chamber secured The Commercial Dispatch as the state sponsor. Lois Kappler, a former elementary principal in Columbus who recently retired from Mississippi State University, agreed to be state coordinator.

The community’s efforts to save the bee provide an opportunity for West Lowndes fifth-grader Carmen Hairston to defend her title as Lowndes County’s top speller. She was the youngest competitor in the county last year and won by correctly spelling “scooter.” The state competition was held by an online written test because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Carmen sat at a computer and “did her best” as Beck supervised.

Carmen received the words for her school bee Monday and has been writing them five times a day. Her mother, Daysha Humphrey, reads them for Carmen to spell aloud.

“I know I’m a hard worker,” Carmen said, “and I love spelling.”

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