WORTHINGTON The 2020 Worthington Middle School Spelling Bee was a virtual success.

In the first Zoom-based contest, hoste Wednesday afternoon, that longtime WMS bee coordinators Hollie Hibma and Paula Wolyniec have ever engineered, a pair of eighth-grade contestants finished in the top two slots.

“It’s not all about studying for the test,” said Alex Reum, the 2020 WMS Spelling Bee champion and a veteran of the school’s bees during his WMS tenure.

“I generally read a lot, and that helps.”

Added second-place contestant and avid reader Isaac Kinser, “I’ve beaten Alex in previous contests, but he did really well.”

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Reum and Kinser, along with Kinser’s seventh-grade brother Austin, who landed in third place, will represent WMS at the regional spelling bee in Redwood Falls on Feb. 2.

With District 518 classes in a distance-learning mode at present due to the pandemic, Wolyniec and Hibma decided to forge ahead with the spelling bee, albeit in a slightly different format.

Understandably, some changes were required.

“We usually [spelling] test all the fifth- and sixth-graders, and then invite the seventh- and eighth-graders who participated in the Southwest Minnesota Spelling Bee as fifth- or sixth-graders to try out,” explained Wolyniec.

“This year, it was harder to do that with distance learning.”

Instead, Wolyniec and Hibma invited the entire student body to take two written spelling tests, based on the National Spelling Bee’s platform. In all, 17 students gave the tests a whirl.

“The kids had a total of 50 words to spell, and the seven who spelled 30 or more of those correctly competed on Wednesday afternoon,” Wolyniec said.

Other than the selection process, and the fact that the students and teachers (who served as pronouncers and judges) logged on to the bee via Zoom rather than gathering in person, the contest was virtually the same.

Along with the Kinser brothers and Reum, contestants Aurora Ramos Ramos (fifth grade), Dominic Meier (sixth grade), Gage Wasmund (sixth grade) and Angie Dailey (seventh grade) took turns spelling the words tossed at them.

As a testament to their overall prowess, it took seven complete rounds before the first student was eliminated (Wasmund missed “antsy,” incorrectly inserting an “e”).

Two rounds later, Dailey joined Wasmund as a spectator when she was tripped up on “teeter,” while Meier hung in all the way to Round 17, missing on the musical term “lento.”

Fifth-grader Ramos finished in fourth place when the tricky “tangents” tripped her.

“I have a feeling we’ll be seeing you in future bees,” Wolyniec praised the youngest contestant.

Austin Kinser bowed out in Round 21 when he neglected to add an “o” to “laboratory.”

That left Isaac Kinser and Reum to battle through six more rounds, trading hits and misses while displaying admirable sportsmanship, until Kinser failed to nail “parishioner.”

Reum sealed his victory with a correct spelling of the obscure “shrike” (a carnivorous passerine bird of the family Laniidae, for the uninitiated) followed by “stalagmite.”

“There’s nothing like a good competition,” said Wolyniec.

The super spellers affirmed that opinion.

“The competition makes it more fun,” agreed Reum.

“I like competing,” added Kinser.

During the bee, the WMS students correctly spelled words ranging from “princess” to “taillights” to “disease” to “Scandinavia” to “indecipherable,” among dozens of others.

Their spirited and honest participation — despite looming Zoom fatigue — inspired Hibma and Wolyniec.

“It always encourages me to know that many of our students like to be challenged and are willing to go above and beyond what their teachers expect of them,” said Wolyniec.

“We loved seeing the camaraderie and good sportsmanship as well, and I’m so glad we have the technology to continue our spelling bee tradition, despite the current restrictions.

“We’ve learned a lot about creativity and thinking outside the box this year.”