Newman hosts Sunflower State Spelling Bee

Mar 14, 2019
spelling bee

Young contestants and their families filled the De Mattias Performance Hall for the Sunflower State Spelling Bee Saturday, March 9.

The spellers took their places at 8:45 a.m. and warmed up their brains, vocal cords and nerves with a quick practice round before diving into the competition.

While students practiced introducing their names, schools and grades, proud parents and other attendees snapped photos from the audience. Word and vocabulary practice time flew by, and all participants took a quick lunch break before they were called back to the competition stage.

The spelling bee games began promptly at noon, with Newman Associate Professor of English Susan Crane-Laracuente, Ph.D., as the primary word pronouncer.

“I have been the pronouncer for the Sedgwick County bee for a number of years now, so when the coordinators called for help with the state bee, I offered to help,” Crane-Laracuente said.

Some of her favorite parts included working with a supportive team to administer the bee and witnessing the students.

“I think they are always so brave to get up on stage and respond on the spot. I love their earnestness,” she said.

Amber Jackson of the Kansas Press Association, coordinator of the bee, said spelling bees enable students to learn valuable life-long skills by improving spelling, increasing vocabularies, learning concepts and developing correct English usage.

Sunflower Spelling Bee contestants

“The state bee isn’t the beginning and it’s not the end,” Jackson said. “These kids all started in their classroom, some moved on to school bees or district bees, but all had to win at the county level in order to compete at state.

“The competitors weren’t only competing for our title — the top two now move on to compete in Washington, D.C., at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.”

Sukesh Kamesh, a middle-schooler from Kingman County, won the spelling bee with the word “horripilation,” which is defined as “a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear, etc.” by This is the second year in a row that Kamesh has won the Kansas state spelling bee.

Rebecca Xue of Johnson County won second place. Both she and Kamesh will head to Washington, D.C., in May to represent the Kansas Press Association at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Crane-Laracuente added, “Thank you to other NU personnel who also volunteered their full Saturday: Micah (Oelze) and Clark (Schafer), and especially theater tech student James Leggett.

“He set up two microphones of differing heights for students to choose from, plus he kept all the mics charged and working without a single problem all day long. He even asked about playing music between rounds, which was a great idea — and then he did, with suitable selections and volume.”

It truly takes a team to put on a spelling bee, she said.