Why this Horry County middle schooler just won a free trip to Washington, D.C.

Mark Zheng, a 13 year-old eighth grade student from Conway Middle School spent about two hours a day over a period of six weeks studying words.

And that’s why he has a free trip to Washington, D.C.

Zheng was one of 49 elementary and middle school students from Horry and Georgetown county schools competing in the Scripps-affiliated Sun News Regional Spelling Bee at St. James High School Saturday.

He got first place by correctly spelling the word “stalactite,” and won an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

It took 13 rounds of eliminations before Zheng correctly spelled his final word.

He said he’s nervous about the trip, but excited as well.

“I want to see the monuments in D.C.,” Zheng said. “I just like seeing history, instead of reading in the book, I want to see it.”

He said he’s entered he contest once before in fifth grade, but this is the first time he’s won.

“I feel happy and thankful,” he said. “A lot of people helped me.”

Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian