After weeks of practice, it was finally Gracie Benton’s time to shine.
Benton was the only speller left standing after 10 rounds and three hours at the 27th annual The Sun News Regional Spelling Bee on Tuesday night. She went head to head with Justin Indla, of Ocean Bay Elementary, for a round, winning on the word “pasquinade” – a lampoon or satire usually having political significance.
She said she didn’t even know what the word meant, but successfully sounded it out to the applause of several hundred.
“I was so excited,” Benton, sixth-grader at Conway Middle School, said. “I was so shocked I got that word right.”
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Benton tied for second runner-up last year with three others, but was defeated by four-time champion Isabella Neubauer. This year, in a bright green dress and long brown curls, she took home the trophy.
“Seeing her win, it was just so awesome,” Amanda Benton, Gracie’s mother, said. “She’s so humble and she worked so hard for this.”
Benton was one of 54 elementary, intermediate and middle school students across Horry and Georgetown counties who participated in this year’s regional bee. She advances to represent the area in the national spelling bee.
The national bee will be held May 24-29 in the Washington, D.C., area. All food and lodging expenses will be paid for Benton and a chaperone by The Sun News and The Sun News Educational Foundation.
In addition to the Washington trip, Benton also receives a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a one-year subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Premium.
“I really thought it was possible [for her to win], but I was worried when I saw the list of names,” Amanda Benton said. “There were a few other contestants that were in the last few rounds with her last year.”
Chetna Patel, last year’s runner up, misspelled a German word with just a few contestants left.
Indla won a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. All contestants, including Indla and Benton, received a trophy recognizing them as champions of their local school’s spelling bee, compliments of The Sun News and The Sun News Educational Foundation, and numerous prizes and passes to local attractions.
Brett Mahaffey, instructional coach at St. James High School, served his first year as head judge.
Several past officials returned to the bee this year, including Tom Jones – with the Grand Strand Optimist Club – who celebrated his 18th year as the second judge. Wanda Chandler-Flowers, assistant to the pronouncer, was in her 15th year; Claire Adare, judge three, and Corinne Merril, rounds keeper, were in their sixth year at the bee. Diana Zipko, rounds recorder, marked her ninth year and Cari Borisuk, alternate judge, was in her first year at the bee.