Two local spellers claimed the title of Harlan County Spelling Bee champion on Monday.
The middle grades competition was won by Sean Cooper, an eighth-grader at James A. Cawood Elementary School. The primary division was won by Brett Wesley Johnson a third-grader at Rosspoint Elementary School.
Cooper won the primary division when he was in the third-grade, the last year he was eligible in that division. On Monday, he added another title to his resume, becoming the middle school champion speller, also the last year he was eligible to compete before moving on to high school.
“I’ve been trying to do it for years,” said Cooper after correctly spelling deafening and then icing the win by spelling succeed. “I could never do it. I said to myself last year that I must win next year.”
After the competition was narrowed to two, both incorrectly spelled pewter, keeping the competition going until a 12th round.
Cooper said spelling comes naturally for him. His parents, Donald Cooper, of Bledsoe, and Jennifer Shepherd, of Browning Acres, noted he began reading when he was only 4 years old.
He is no stranger to spelling bee competitions. He won the right to compete at the county level in grades two, three, four, seven and eight. In addition to winning in third-grade, he finished third in second-grade and second place in seventh-grade.
Tristan, his brother, was runner up in the school spelling bee at JACES this year.
Cooper participates in many activities including academic team, basketball, high school track and junior high cross country. He was Area 9 Runner of the Year last year. He is also active in his church youth group.
Lucy Bryson, an eighth-grader at Harlan County Christian School, won second place. Marissa Hatfield, a fifth-grader at Rosspoint, was third.
Also competing in the upper division were Hannah Pitman from Black Mountain, Robbie Cantrell from Cawood, James Pinkley from Cumberland, Cameryn Aslinger from Evarts, Andrea Hoskins from Green Hills, Makenna Jackson, Harlan Middle School, and Isaiah Peggs, Wallins.
With the title, Cooper will advance to the Kentucky Derby Spelling Bee in Louisville during March.
In the primary division, Brett Wesley Johnson, a third-grader at Rosspoint Elementary School, won top honors. The son of Brett and Tabatha Johnson, of Cranks, admitted he was “very nervous” during the competition which lasted for 26 rounds.
Johnson said he studied a lot for the competition and took advantage of recent days off from school to study even more. “That gave me more time to practice,” he said.
He noted reading is his favorite subject in school and noted “spelling is in reading isn’t it?”
In the primary division, words such as squeak, swimming, balloon, rescue and raccoon eliminated challengers.
In the end, Johnson was battling with Black Mountain Elementary School’s Cole Howard, also a third-grader. Johnson correctly spelled yield and then won by spelling character.
Howard received the second place award, and Jeremy Goldsberry, also a third-grader from Rosspoint, placed third.
Other school winners competing were Ethan Lewis from Black Mountain, Addison Lemar and Abby Ray from Cawood, Abrielle Sherman and Maggie Goins from Cumberland, Jaicelynn Napier and Hannah Bennett from Evarts, Shyenne Cantrell and Shaleigh Chappell from Green Hills, Addisyn Jones from JACES, and Jacob Baker and Hannah Mefford from Wallins.
The pronouncer was Laura Adkisson, Harlan County Public Libraries. Judges were Gina Stewart, language arts consultant, Rich Haynes, Harlan County Public Libraries, and Sherry Baird, 4-H program assistant, Harlan County Extension Service.
Sponsors for the event were The Bank of Harlan, Kentucky Farm Bureau and Harlan County Public Schools.