HMS eighth-grader spells her way to win
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
She said she never has tried eating sirloin. But Sally Lushbough knew how to spell it.
She doesn't have a pennant hanging in her room, either. But the Hays Middle School eighth-grader knew how to spell it.
Spelling those two words correctly not only gave Lushbough the 2013 Ellis County Spelling Bee championship, but also ended a tense 30-plus minutes for the audience Thursday night in Fort Hays State University's Memorial Union.
It also earned her a trip to next month's Sunflower Spelling Bee, also in Hays, from which the winner will advance to the National Spelling Bee the last week in May in Washington.
Lushbough wasn't thinking about further competitions, though.
The look on her face was one of those what-just-happened moments.
After outlasting 37 other spellers from 10 county schools, Lushbough and O'Loughlin Elementary School fifth-grader Megan Flavin were called to the stage to decide the winner.
They had no idea what they were in for. Neither did the audience.
The two finalists went through 31 rounds and 72 words before Lushbough finally correctly spelled sirloin, then pennant.
In all, the bee took 37 total rounds.
"Those words were fierce," Brenda Meder, the pronouncer, said of challenges the two finalists faced.
Understandably, Lushbough's family was giddy afterward as people came up to congratulate the new county spelling bee champ.
"My little sister can spell better than I can," Emma Hilton, a senior at Hays High School, said excitedly.
The back-and-forth between the two finalists took more than half an hour.
"I recorded it for 20 minutes, and then my phone died," said Lushbough's mom, Terri Hilton.
It was a comeback of sorts for Lushbough, who decided to try her luck at the bee again for the first time since fifth grade. She also participated in her school competition three years ago at Lincoln Elementary, but then she didn't make it out of the school competition to the county bee.
Lushbough decided to give it a whirl again in this, her final chance to compete, as an eighth-grader.
It was a good decision as she won the HMS school title and cruised through the first six rounds unscathed Thursday.
"I really wasn't too nervous until we had to go up on stage," Lushbough said.
That feeling passed, she said, as the duo got deep in the grueling competition, and as the spell-off went back and forth.
Now, Lushbough will have to get ready to compete on an even bigger stage -- the Sunflower Spelling Bee, March 2 at FHSU's Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center.
The traveling trophy will remain at Hays Middle School, formerly Felten Middle School, where last year's county winner attended.
"She's excited, with this being the first year of Hays Middle School, all the trophies will say (HMS) instead of Felten," Terri Hilton said of her daughter. "She's making history -- Hays Middle School's first champion."