With that, Basehor-Linwood MIddle School eighth-grader Calder Hollond won the 53rd annual Leavenworth County Spelling Bee. But her victory only came after about 20 rounds of back-and-forth spelling in the final round — against her younger brother, Basehor-Linwood Middle School sixth-grader Sterling.

From “benevolent” to “transatlantic” and “burgundy” to “volatile” they spelled one word after the other, until Sterling eventually tripped up on “liturgical.” A total of 36 spellers representing all but two schools in the county took part in the bee, open to fifth-through eighth-grade students and sponsored by Leavenworth Area Retired School Personnel Association. Organizers say the bee this year moved quicker than in years past, with 19 students eliminated after the first round. Nick French of Tonganoxie Middle School took third place in the county bee this year.

By coming in first and second, the Hollond siblings will both move on to the Sunflower Spelling Bee, scheduled for March 2 at Fort Hays State University. The winner of that bee is eligible to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in late May in Washington, D.C.

Calder said far from a sibling rivalry, that the final contest came down to the two of them helped her relax.

“Because when you’re up against someone you don’t know, it’s like they’re your enemy,” she said.

Both of the siblings said they enjoyed spelling. Their mother, Anne, said she always tried to make it a fun subject while teaching.

“We used to home-school them, and that was a big focus for us,” she said.

That included a “spelling club” as part of the home-schooling, which expanded to a larger activity once the two started attending Basehor-Linwood Middle School. Their father, David, said that experience — with friendly spelling bees as part of the club — seemed to help them prepare for bigger competition.

“There’s really two parts to it,” he said. “There’s knowing how to spell a
word and there’s being able to spell the word under pressure.”

Anne said both Calder and Sterling were avid readers and study Greek and Latin, which helped too. But both siblings said they also studied after winning their school-level bees, sometimes together.

Despite that, they have somewhat different styles — Calder remained still during her turn at the microphone, while Sterling spelled every word in the air, his finger as the pen. He said it’s not something he picked up on purpose.

“I’m not really sure,” where it came from, he said, “but even at the school, you kind of spell on your desk or in the air, so I just used that.”

For the next level, they’ll continue studying. Sterling said he’s going to hit the dictionary.

“I’m going to study more with him,” Calder said.

It’s the second time she’s been to the state bee, having also taken the top honors in 2011. Speaking from experience, Calder said the state bee requires a lot more preparation, with a more extensive word list and stiffer competition. But she said she’s looking forward to it.

“I was hoping to win,” she said of the county bee. “I’ve been before and this is my last chance.”