After two-year absence, Nolan returns as spelling bee champion

After 233 words, 62 spellers, nine rounds and 3 1/2 hours, Howard County has a new spelling bee champion.

Jack Nolan, an eighth-grader at Mayfield Woods Middle School, was crowned the victor of the eighth annual Howard County Library System Spelling Bee Friday night at Reservoir High School. The winning word was "kudize" — a verb that means, appropriately, "to praise or give honors to."

It's a feeling Jack has felt before. He won in 2009 as a fifth-grader at Deep Run Elementary School and, like then, moves on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington (May 27 to June 1).

"I've got to bring it to nationals," said Jack, 13, who was eliminated in 2009 from the national bee in the preliminary rounds. "Last time was not that bad, but not that good, either."

Jack outlasted 61 other spellers from public and private elementary and middle schools, and students from home-school associations at the bee, sponsored by the Friends of Howard County Library and BB&T. Competition was tight; after five rounds, 15 students still remained — a record in bee history, said head judge and County Council member Courtney Watson.

With his win, Jack received a $1,000 scholarship, trophy and a Webster's Third New International Dictionary. He is the second two-time winner in the bee's history, but the record of two consecutive wins still belongs to last year's champion, Sam Osheroff, 13, an eighth-grader at Clarksville Middle School who took Jack's crown in 2010.

Sam was one of the last four spellers standing and was eliminated from the competition in the eighth round after misspelling "wellaway," an interjection from Middle English.

As groans of disappointment rose from the audience, Sam merely put up his hands and smiled before he left the stage.

"Thanks, guys," he said. "This has been awesome."

Later, after Jack spelled the winning word, Sam admitted he did know how to spell "kudize," and said the bee was about luck as much as skill.

"It was still a good run," he said. "Spelling 'wellaway' could've gone either way, but this was still so fun."

Even though winning the bee is nothing new to Jack, he said the victory was still "pretty thrilling" — and something he'd been working toward the years Sam was champion.

"I spent a while plotting my revenge," Jack joked.

Jack and Sam don't know each other outside of the bee, Jack said, but were friendly competitors throughout the years.

When, in round three, Jack was given the word "nemesis," his mother, Valerie, joked she hoped Jack wouldn't accidentally spell Sam's name instead.

With both Jack and Sam moving on to high school next year, their reigns at the county bee are over.

"It's kind of like an end to a dynasty," Sam said. "But I saw some young spellers up there who did well; our group's done, and now a whole new one can start."

One of those new young spellers was Hanna Al-Kowsi, 10, a fifth-grader at West Friendship Elementary. It was Hanna's first time at the bee and she took second place after misspelling the word "fenestrate." As runner-up, she received a trophy and $750 scholarship, and is Jack's alternate should he be unable to participate in nationals.

Standing on stage in front of a packed auditorium at Reservoir made her nervous and scared, Hanna said, but once she started spelling, excitement took over.

"It's fun to try to compete and see what you know," Hanna said. "It was absolutely scary, but the built-up adrenaline made me feel better."

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