Claire Harris has 9,999 problems, but the word “horticulture” isn’t one.
That word helped Claire, a sixth grade student at Jackson Hole Classical Academy, win this year’s state spelling bee, which means she will go on to represent Wyoming at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in June. To help her prepare for the event, Scripps sent her a list of 10,000 words to study.
“It’s just enormous,” said Claire, who is 12.
There was no final word at this year’s state bee because it was online and asynchronous, meaning it felt like competitors were fighting the clock rather than each other.
Once students opened the online portal they had just 30 minutes to spell 25 words and guess 25 definitions.
But when Claire tried to enter her answers, the website wouldn’t let her type them in.
Her mother, Lauri Harris, quickly called the state spelling bee coordinator, who allowed Claire to take the test over the phone. For the next half hour she carefully spoke out each letter through the receiver, down to the final seconds of her allotted time.
The next day the coordinator called back to tell Claire she had won.
“I pretty much knew how to spell every word on the list, so I knew that I could do really well,” Claire said. “But also, it’s easy to make a mistake.”
She beat out 70 other contestants from across the state, though she shared the podium with fellow Jackson resident Benjamin Weisman, who came in second.
A fourth grade Colter Elementary School student, Benjamin, 9, also ran into a bit of drama with the online portal. He was at Jackson Hole Airport with his parents, about to board for their spring break flight, when the plane was delayed. Rather than competing from the comfort of their vacation rental, Benjamin realized he would have to start the bee from the busy airport terminal.
Thanks to his dad’s noise-canceling headphones, the young speller was able to get his answers in. And though he won’t go on to compete at the national level, Benjamin was quite pleased with the second-place cash prize and bragging rights. He had to spell words like obnubilate and limitrophe to take home the title.
Both students said they practiced hard for the bee and were thrilled with their success. Proud mom Erin Weisman said it’s “proof that hard work pays off.”
Harris will keep noting and circling words on her daughter’s gargantuan list, but she also knows a lot of it comes down to luck.
“You can do all the studying in the world,” Harris said. “But really, if they’ve come across those words and heard those words and can maybe guess at a couple things, then they’re doing good.”