Going out big

Published 8:48 am Tuesday, March 26, 2019

ATHENS — For the past four years, Hannah McKenzie has been racking up achievements in spelling bees, with wins at the school, district and county level.

The South Point Middle School eighth grader was in her last year of eligibility for the bee when she took first place at the county competition in December, a long-sought goal.

After qualifying through an online test, she became eligible to compete in the Scripps National regional spelling bee at Ohio University in Athens on Saturday, her fourth time taking part in the event.

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And her final trip to the Athens bee brought her highest placement yet, with the 14-year-old working her way through 15 rounds of spelling and 44 other competitors to place second in the event, which covers counties throughout southern Ohio.

“She worked so hard for this,” Shanna McKenzie, her mother said. “And it was her last year.”

After all other competitors had been eliminated, it came down to McKenzie and Rajan Nilla, an eighth grader from Bishop Flaget, a Catholic school in Chillicothe.

McKenzie ultimately misspelled, “Burberry,” which is a type of lightweight, belted raincoat. Nilla then correctly spelled “pascola,” referring to a masked, fiesta dancer, to win the bee.
McKenzie’s placement was the highest from Lawrence County since 2016, when Emily Neal, then a Chesapeake Middle student, was runner-up for her second time. Holli Leep, who was attending Fairland Middle School, made it to second place in 2015.

McKenzie, who is the daughter of Harry Parks, first won the school bee at Burlington Elementary in fourth grade, then placed first in the South Point district bee. She repeated her win at Burlington in fifth grade, then won South Point Middle School’s bee in sixth grade.

She attended the regional bee for the first time that year, placing eighth. She had another school win in seventh grade, won the district bee and placed 20th at the regional competition.

On Saturday, she had a surprise show of support from Misty Pitsenbarger, a Burlington Elementary teacher who traveled to Athens to root for her former second grade student.

Pitsenbarger informed McKenzie’s mother of a fact about the school district.

“She said Hannah was the only person from South Point to ever to qualify for regional,” Shanna said.

While McKenzie has outgrown eligibility for the bee, Lawrence County has promising prospects for coming years, with several students faring well on Saturday.

The group of five was one of, if not the largest to qualify in the county’s history and four of them made the top 20 in their debut in Athens.

Following McKenzie, Molly Dunlap, a fifth grader at Fairland West Elementary, made it to the fifth round and 13th place. Meredith Rogers, of Rock Hill Elementary’s fourth grade, came in at 15th place, also in the fifth round.

While he is in his last year of eligibility, Justin Goodwin, an eighth grader at Chesapeake Middle School, made it to round four and 18th place.

Also competing was Dean Clark of Chesapeake Elementary’s fourth grade, who made it to round four and 25th place in his first try at regional. All participants on Saturday were winners of their school bees.

As for this year’s regional champion, Nilla, who has won the event for three years in a row, will now be eligible to compete in the national bee, which takes place in Washington, D.C. from May 26-31.

The last Lawrence County student to qualify for the national bee was Felicity Jenkins, a 2016 Symmes Valley graduate, who made the trip as a sixth grader in 2010 after winning in Athens.