WAILUKU - Out of the 30 students who competed in the Maui District Spelling Bee, a pair of Lokelani Intermediate School spellers rose to the top and literally emerged as the best two "competitors."
It was the word "competitor" that gave 7th-grader Laney Flanagan the title of top speller in the county on Thursday night in Baldwin High School's Multipurpose Room.
"It feels rewarding," she said shortly after winning the competition after spelling "competitor" correctly. "Last year, I was out of the spelling bee, so this year it feels pretty good."
Lokelani Intermediate School’s Nicklaus Yoo placed second Thursday in the Maui County Spelling Bee. Lokelani Intermediate spellers Yoo and Flanagan swept the top two spots in the Bee and secured trips to the Hawaii State Spelling Bee in March on Oahu.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Flanagan, 12, was in the top 10 in last year's county competition but was knocked out for incorrectly spelling the word "confidence."
She said she definitely had a lot more confidence coming into this year's competition.
"I learned not to be too careful with the words, because they can really mess you up when you get up there," she said. "My goal was just to try my best and not be upset if I messed up a really easy word, like last year."
Classmate and runner-up Nicklaus Yoo also competed last year and said he was equally as confident this year.
"I was very excited," he said. "I did feel a bit more prepared than last year's, since I did get the opportunity to study at school."
In preparation for the spelling bee, both Flanagan and Yoo would study during recess with their spelling coach and teacher, Albert Hee.
"I could have predicted it, but I didn't want to jinx it," said Hee. "They were really good."
In the 17th round of the competition, Flanagan, Yoo and 8th-grader Melissa Hassmer of Doris Todd Memorial Christian School were the final contestants. However, two rounds later Hassmer would be "dinged" out.
"I was like, 'Wow, both finalists are from Lokelani,' " said Flanagan.
After several rounds of both of them spelling words correctly, Yoo misspelled the word "turbulence" in the 23rd round, but Flanagan slipped on the word "enforceable."
The following round would decide the bee, with Yoo misspelling the word "advantageous."
While Yoo went to sit in the crowd of more than 100 people in the audience, Flanagan stepped up to the microphone and correctly spelled "competitor."
Flanagan and Yoo will travel to Honolulu for the 28th annual Hawaii State Spelling Bee to be held March 23.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.