Jan. 28—BEMIDJI — Though soft-spoken and masked, eighth-grader Jack Borgen spelled his way to victory during Thursday night's Spelltacular at Bemidji Middle School like a "professional," which just so happened to be his winning word.
"It feels pretty good (to win)," Jack said.
When asked how he prepared for the 15 rounds resulting in his win, he admitted with a chuckle, "I didn't even do anything."
Anyone in the audience couldn't tell as he had little reluctance after pronouncer Sue Bruns finished stating each word for the students to spell, including possible homonyms and the word's definition.
The word, "conkers," was one of Jack's words.
"This word has a homonym that most of us would be way more familiar with," Bruns said at her podium. "It's a plural noun, and it refers to a game popular in England in which each player swings a horse chestnut, or originally a snail shell, threaded on a string to try to break one held by an opponent."
"Conkers. C-O-N-K-E-R-S. Conkers," Jack spelled with ease as the three judges flashed their green cards showing he spelled it correctly.
"I had never heard of that (word) before," Bruns said to the audience as Jack returned to his seat.
The top four spellers faced off in round 13. Eighth-grader Tanner Johnson was eliminated after misspelling, "technique," while Jack's fifth-grade sister, Hannah, misspelled, "emboldened."
Down to two spellers in round 14, Jack correctly spelled, "contessa," while seventh-grader Evienna Stodgell misspelled "sustenance."
Needing to spell one more word correctly to secure the win, Jack's spelling of "professional" was met with a round of applause from the audience.
As the top four, Jack, Hannah, Tanner and Evienna will now compete in the regional spelling bee on Feb. 8 at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls.
With regards to advancing beyond regionals, Jack is happy with wherever he places. However, with his sister giving him added competition, he added that "it would be good if I could beat my sister."
Other Spelltacular participants included Bentley Gassert, Alaina O'Bierne, Nico Licata, Veronica Bliss, Evan Wild, Danica Birt, Kadence Helberg and Keira Page.
The Spelltacular's 36th year of running came at just the right time with students being back in school and in-person plans for spelling bee competitions coming to fruition.
The district had foregone their Spelltacular last year as it was virtual-only and they would've been allowed to send just one student to advancing competitions instead of the usual four.
"We have a district of 5,000 students, so we didn't want to send just one kid," Coordinator Sue Hendricks said.
Being back in full force, each grade — fifth through eighth — held several small competitions within their classrooms including written and oral rounds beginning the first week of January.
The Spelltacular was then supposed to take place on Jan. 20, but
the week-long closure of the district
postponed the event by one week.
Regardless, Hendricks is grateful for the in-person return of the Spelltacular competition and the value that students take from it.
"I absolutely love being in front of these kids," she mentioned. "Distance learning and activities are functional, but they're not relational. They're not teaching these kids social skills and they need to be in school. (Spelltacular) just gives them something extra to look forward to. This is their thing and this is their time."
And if they can spell "novice," "emitting," "invigorating" and "contraption," that will be one more notch on their belt.