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Spellers end at an 'impasse'

By Shay Maunz
Lawrence Pierce
Lauren Volk and Varun Kukkillaya went back and forth for 72 rounds at the Kanawha County Spelling Bee, before the pronouncer ran out of words and called it a draw.
Lawrence Pierce Lauren Volk and Varun Kukkillaya went back and forth for 72 rounds at the Kanawha County Spelling Bee, before the pronouncer ran out of words and called it a draw.

Daily Mail Staff Writer

After reciting more than 80 words, and often their definition and language of origin, pronouncer Kenny Bass summed up the final rounds of the Kanawha County Spelling Bee.

"This is appropriate," he said. "The next word is 'impasse.'"

Varun Kukkillaya, a 7th grader at John Adams Middle School, spelled that word correctly, as he had all the words that came before it. And his competitor, Andrew Jackson Middle School 7th grader Lauren Volk, spelled her next word, "teriyaki," correctly as well.

She didn't misspell her next word either, and neither did Kukkillaya. For 72 rounds the pair went back and forth without missing a word.

In the end, officials declared it a tie -- the first tie in the history of the Kanawha County bee.

"I actually ran out of words," Bass said. "And that's just freaking amazing."

It all started four hours earlier, with 62 spellers from the county school system. One by one they approached the microphone and were given a word. After spelling it they walked away eyeing the four judges, waiting for the fateful sound of a bell, the signal that they'd misspelled the word.

Thirty-eight kids heard that bell ring after spelling their first word and were eliminated in round one, getting caught up on words like "anthropomorphic" and "annihilation."

Over the next ten rounds the field was winnowed down from 25 to two: Kukkillaya and Volk.

The pair went back and forth for the next 70 rounds, breezing through words like "terrapin," "lederhosen," and "ocarina."

Only once did either misspell a word. Kukkillaya, the first to step to the microphone, missed "dachshund." But then Volk also misspelled her next word, "femininity," so the spelling continued.

Both winners said they've put in long hours studying for the spelling bee. Volk took the task head on, spending hours every day going over word lists from the Internet with her mom.

"She just reads off all the words on the list and I spell them all," Volk said. "My mom's amazing to do it with me all the time."

Kukkillaya spent a lot of time studying too, but his approach was part strategy.

"I figured that some of the words from the school bee would be here as well, so I went over the school lists a lot," he said. "And I was right, it worked."

Both spent a lot of time studying etymology, and frequently asked for a word's language of origin before spelling it. They said that approach acts like a cheat sheet when you get a hard word you're not familiar with.

Both Kukkillaya and Volk will go on to compete in the 2014 Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee on March 22 at Capital High School.

The winner of the regional bee will receive an all-expense-paid, weeklong trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., as well as a $2,500 SMART529 savings account for college.

The Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee is sponsored by the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association and Alpha Natural Resources. WSAZ's MyZ TV will broadcast the regional bee.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886.


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