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Hollond to defend spelling bee title





Of all the returnees to the Sunflower Spelling Bee this year, one might expect Sterling Hollond to feel the most pressure after winning it all last year.

Not so, says his mother, Anne Hollond.

"He would like to win it again, of course," Anne Hollond said of her son. "But he also knows that's hard. You never know what kind of word you're going to get."

Sterling Hollond, a seventh-grader at Basehor-Linwood Middle School, will represent Leavenworth County for a second consecutive year at the Sunflower Bee.

The national-qualifying event that includes 83 spellers is set to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center in Fort Hays State University's Sheridan Hall.

Hollond got to travel to Washington for nationals last May after winning the Sunflower Bee, and his mother thinks that experience also will be in his favor Saturday.

"That makes a huge difference," she said. "After being under the bright lights and everything at nationals, while you're just trying to remember to breathe, you have a better sense of everything, the comfort of the backdrop of having been there."

The adjoining county southeast of Leavenworth County, Johnson County, will be represented by a three-time state qualifier.

Sam Phipps, an eighth-grader at Monticello Trails Middle School in Shawnee, finished third as a sixth-grader two years ago in the Sunflower meet held in Great Bend, then won his county bee last year to advance to the Hays meet and returns again this year.

Returnees from last year from western Kansas are Ness County's Trevor Vandegrift, an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart Grade School in Ness City; Wallace County's Leah Ayers, a sixth-grader at Wallace County Schools in Sharon Springs; and Lane County's Jocelyn Walker from Utica, an eighth-grader at Healy Public Schools.

A Wichita family will be back in Hays to watch not just one family member again, but two.

Malar Muthukumar returns to represent Sedgwick County, and is bringing along a sibling. Muthukumar, a seventh-grader at the Independent School in Wichita, qualified as a sixth-grader last year. She won the county bee this year to qualify for state again, and her younger brother Vijay, a fourth-grader, also qualified.

Like Hollond, the local representative from Ellis County already has had the experience of dealing with pressure.

Eric Adams, an eighth-grader at Hays Middle School, had finished as his school's alternate to the county bee.

He was getting ready to eat dinner with his family the evening the Ellis County Bee on Jan. 31 when he listened to a phone message and learned one of HMS' spellers was ill and wouldn't be able to compete that night.

So the Adams family all scurried to the FHSU campus, where the Ellis County Bee was being held in the Memorial Union, and Eric went on to win the county title.

"We're still laughing about how all that happened," said his mom, Cheryl Shepherd-Adams. "It was so unexpected. I don't think he had time to get nervous. I think that helped him."