After hours of battling it out, Zheng wins Region 16 Spelling Bee

At the onset of the 70th annual Regional Spelling Bee on Saturday, it didn’t seem the competition would last more than two hours, but it did.


Fifteen students were in the competition at Region 16, which was the culmination of Panhandle-wide spelling bee contests for the 2017-2018 school year.

In the end, 196 words would be spelled in 46 rounds of the competition. The bee was judged by Dr. Elizabeth Garcia, Dr. Bridgette Whaley and Dr. Ray Barbosa, all professors at West Texas A&M University.

“I love spelling bees and I participated in them as an elementary school student,” said first-time judge Whaley. “When this opportunity came along, I couldn’t pass it up. It’s very exciting.

“The kids were just amazing. I was very impressed with their abilities and how many rounds this spelling bee went.”

The first two words of the bee, bagel and dejected, were misspelled and the first two students were knocked out of the competition. When round six began nearly 30 minutes later more than half of the contestants had been eliminated.

Jeff Zheng is usually a stickler for requesting word specific information one request at a time — language of origin, definition and usage of the word in a sentence — but after round six he asked the announcer Jay Ricci, “Can you give me all of the rest of the information?”

The final four — Zheng, Kinley Rehder, Eli Alley and Olivia Chen — would battle it out for nearly an hour before one of them made a mistake. Though she correctly spelled Wagnerian, which is pronounced with a “v” sound earlier in the competition, Rehder incorrectly spelled feebly and then there were three.

The word recuperating would best Alley, leaving Randall County’s Zheng and Potter County’s Chen left to go round for round.

Both young pupils have been in that spot before — the remaining two individuals competing for a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., and both have won.

Though spelling correctly may be inherent for Chen, she incorrectly spelled the word, leaving Zheng to claim victory with the word attachment.

“I expected everyone would be really good,” Zheng said. “All of the spellers were really good and it went on for awhile. It was really nerve wrecking.”

Though he has been competing in spelling bees since third grade, Zheng said he still has nervousness about the competition.

“I’d go up and I was afraid I would get a word I don’t know,” he said.

“Some of the words I got, I thought might be spelled one way and after they told me the definition and language of origin then (I had it).”

Aside from making it into the semi-final competition and ultimately winning, when Zheng competes in the 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee in D.C., he hopes to find time to see the National Museum of Natural History.