Young speller vanquishes bee with 'i-m-p-u-n-i-t-y'

Mar. 10, 2014 @ 11:37 AM

Fifty-nine jittery spellers representing schools across Durham and Orange counties took to the stage Saturday to compete in the fifth annual Duke Regional Spelling Bee, held in Page Auditorium on Duke University’s West Campus.

The bee kicked off with the word “hamster” and continued for three hours and 25 rounds. Spellers dispatched with ease words like nachtmusik, keest, schipperke and mihrab, but slowly the stage cleared.

The final three spellers were Bettie Closs, a Little River Elementary School fifth-grader and the 2013 regional bee runner-up; Olivia Fugikawa, a sixth-grader at Lakewood Montessori Middle School who has appeared three times at the regional bee; and Ned Swansey, a Brogden Middle School sixth-grader and the 2012 regional bee winner.

Fugikawa misspelled and left the stage to a standing ovation. Swansey remained for several rounds before slipping up. If Closs spelled the last word correctly, she would win the bee and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in National Bee Week.

The crowd waited anxiously for the final word, and Closs smiled with relief when she heard it. “Impunity,” she said. “I-m-p-u-n-i-t-y. Impunity.”

The crowd went wild. Swansey left the stage to his own thunderous applause, and Phail Wynn, vice president for Durham and regional affairs at Duke University, came up to present Closs with her prize.

“We are so proud to have Bettie represent Duke and the region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee…,” Wynn said. He asked Closs what it meant to her to be the regional spelling champion.

“I have one word,” Closs replied. “E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Everything. It means everything.”

Duke University’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs has sponsored the regional bee since 2010 for Durham Public Schools, Orange County Schools and local charter, private and parochial schools. Lou Rollins, director of special projects in the office, coordinates the bee.

“When we learned from Scripps in 2008 that Durham wasn’t sending a spelling champion to the national competition, we jumped at the chance to sponsor the regional bee,” Rollins said. “It’s a great way for Duke to celebrate the academic excellence of our local schools, and to help words come alive for these students.”