Family ties run deep
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
Several students participating in Saturday's Sunflower Spelling Bee in Hays might feel like they have to live up to the family tradition.
Maybe none more than Gina and Jacob Mathew from Pittsburg.
The brother-sister combination both qualified for the 2013 regional bee by virtue of their performances in the Crawford County Bee earlier this semester.
They will be trying to follow in the footsteps of older sister Nina and brother Joseph, who each won their county bee multiple times and advanced to state competition. Nina Mathew, now a first-year medical student at the University of Kansas, even won the state bee one year and went on to compete at nationals in Washington.
Jacob Mathew, a third-grader at George Nettels Elementary School in Pittsburg, finished fourth in his school competition last year, one place out of advancing to the county bee. This year, he stepped it up, not only advancing to the county bee, but winning it by beating the defending county champion, older sister Gina, a seventh-grader at Pittsburg Community Middle School.
"He's the youngest of four kids, so he always tries to compete with them," the Mathew siblings' dad, Boban Mathew, said of Jacob, also the youngest participant in Saturday's event.
The Mathew family, driving from the southeast corner of the state, will have one of the longest trips (about six hours) to Hays, farther even than one contestant who lives in another state.
Jason Spradling, a fifth-grader from Chautauqua County, actually lives in Pawhuska, Okla., but attends school at Sedan Elementary School in southeast Kansas near the state border.
"We will start driving in the morning (today) and get there by evening," Boban Mathew said.
Another sibling pair participating Saturday will be Calder and Sterling Hollond from Leavenworth County. Calder is an eighth-grader at Basehor-Linwood Middle School in Bonner Springs, where her younger brother, Sterling, is a sixth-grader.
The top returnee from last year's Sunflower Bee is Sam Phipps from Johnson County, a seventh-grader at Monticello Trails Middle School in Shawnee. He placed third at the regional competition as a sixth-grader last year.
The 2012 Sunflower champion, Clara Wicoff from Iola, winner of three straight regional titles, since has moved on to high school. But her younger brother, Isaiah, will be carrying the torch for his family as the Iola Middle School seventh-grader won the Allen County bee this year.
There will be several area participants from surrounding counties, including Connor Depenbusch from Sheridan County, an eighth-grader at Hoxie Elementary School who is making his third trip to state. Another area participant making a return trip to the regional bee will be Jacey Dopita from Rooks County, a sixth-grader at Sacred Heart Grade School in Plainville.
The local representative for Ellis County will be Sally Lushbough, an eighth-grader at Hays Middle School who won the county bee earlier this month.
The winner of Saturday's competition advances to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington the last week of May.
For a glance at the entire list of qualifiers, see the Sunflower Spelling Bee supplement in today's paper.