Spelling showdown competitors become friends

JACKSON COUNTY, Mo. - Two top spellers have now become friends after battling out round upon round of tension building competition.

“Stifling” and “definition” are what it all came all down to in the second match on Saturday for the two Missouri kids.

Kush Sharma, a 7th grader at Frontier Trails Elementary, and Sophia Hoffman, a 5th grader from Lee's Summit, were the finalists for the Jackson County Spelling Bee.

On Feb. 22, they spelled for 66 rounds, until the judges actually ran out of words. So the re-match was scheduled.

Sharma won when he correctly spelled "definition" in round 29 two weeks later.
           
This isn't just stressful for the students; lead judge Kaite Stover said she was nervous for them both.

"First, I wrote down exactly what each speller said because that's what the judge's job is, and as I’m watching be aware that I’m going to have to ring the bell on one of the students for spelling the word incorrectly at some point,” she said.
 
"When I got to school today everybody was just like, ‘Did you win? Did you win?’ When I said yes, everybody just went berserk," Sharma said.

"It’s just really exciting and I’ve had a lot of support," Hoffman said.
 
That support, in part, comes from her older sister Jordan, 16, who also spells. The two girls are close-knit and play the violin and piano in their down time.

Monday morning, Hoffman’s family woke up to sidewalk chalk art on their driveway. A mysterious artist had written well-wishing messages to the Hoffman family and included some words Sophia did spell right like “basmati” and “sassafras.”
 
Her mother Ruth admitted she can’t spell the words her daughters can, but she can help them study.

“I would take their lists and have my pencil and give the word and let them practice," she said.

The two fierce competitors on the stage are now friends for life.

About the competition on Saturday, Sharma said, "I just felt really bad that she was crying."

They now have a secret handshake they shared with us.

“So we just foot and high five or something,” Hoffman said.

Sharma will be competing at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington D.C.

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