<i>The Park Record</i> Spelling Bee champs crowned | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record Spelling Bee champs crowned

Eighth-grader Melinda Buhlman again advances to Scripps National Spelling Bee

Melinda Buhlman smiled with nervous energy when she received the final word. She knew how to spell it. Seven letters later, it was all over: C-H-A-G-R-I-N.

For the second year in a row, Buhlman, an eighth-grader at Rocky Mountain Middle School in Heber City, was the last speller standing. She fought off a stiff test from a talented group of students — and one thorny word that threatened to scuttle her bid to defend her title — to repeat as the champion of the fourth- through eighth-grade competition at the annual The Park Record Spelling Bee, held Tuesday, March 7.

Soren Nielsen, a seventh-grader from Rocky Mountain Middle School, finished second, while Jena Mahoney, a sixth-grader from Timpanogos Intermediate School, took third.

After her victory, Buhlman said keeping her title as the best speller on the Wasatch Back was exhilarating.

"You always have that doubt like, 'There's no chance I'm going to win,'" she said. "But there's always a little glimmer of hope that you will win. It's awesome to win again."

The Park Record will now send Buhlman to compete in the nationally televised Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., which is scheduled for the end of May. At last year's Scripps event, she spelled all her words correctly on stage but her preliminary test score — used to whittle the field to 50 competitors — kept her from qualifying as a finalist.

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This time, armed with her experience from last year's competition, she hopes to advance further. Since she's in her last year of eligibility to participate in Scripps, it will be the final chance to leave her mark on the venerable bee.

"D.C. was awesome last year, and I'm going to try to improve my result," she said.

Buhlman's chances to get back to Washington, D.C., were nearly derailed late in Tuesday's bee. With five spellers left, the word "umlaut" — defined as "the change of a vowel that is caused by partial assimilation to a succeeding sound or that occurs as a reflex of the former presence of a succeeding sound which has been lost or altered," according to Merriam-Webster — almost tripped her up. She was visibly surprised when she got it right.

She said afterward that "umlaut" also gave her trouble while she was studying for the competition.

"I couldn't remember if the start was two U's or one because the spelling is weird," she said.

In the second- and third-grade competition, Clark Cundick, a third-grader from Parley's Park Elementary School, outlasted second-place finisher Isaac Heath of J.R. Smith Elementary School. The pair went back and forth for several minutes before Cundick eventually won on the word 'gruff.' Gabe Griffith, from Trailside Elementary School, finished third.

Cundick was excited to win, especially since he didn't spend that much time getting ready for the bee.

"I actually just started the week before," he said.

Andy Bernhard, the longtime publisher of The Park Record, said it's an honor for the newspaper to be involved in the spelling bee. In total, more than 200 spellers in Summit and Wasatch counties participated in the spelling bee's qualifiers in their schools, and Bernhard said he enjoys seeing the students rise to the challenge the bee presents each year.

"The Park Record Spelling Bee has become a milestone community event for so many students where everybody from second to eighth grade can play," he said. "Seeing our finalists go after it on stage is really exciting. What a sense of accomplishment they must feel. It's a testament to their hard work and perseverance, all of our students earned our respect and admiration."