Baldwin City 4th grader wins pandemic-altered 2021 county spelling bee

photo by: Submitted photo

Gabe Steadham, a fourth-grader at Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center, won the 2021 Douglas County Spelling Bee, which took place in an online format this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gabe Steadham, who finished eighth in last year’s Douglas County Spelling Bee, channeled his competitive drive to win this year’s contest — a different kind of bee that was held entirely online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center fourth grader brought the same drive to the bee that he exhibits in soccer, football, wrestling, ninja warrior gymnastics and most other things he does, according to his mother, Shanna Steadham.

“He can turn everything into a competition,” she said. “As his parents, if we make chores, schoolwork, quiet time into a competition, it works so much better than just forcing it.”

Gabe said he spent the last year upset about his eighth-place finish in the 2020 bee, knowing he could do better.

“I was in the third grade,” he said. “I didn’t really know what the spelling bee was.”

To prepare for this year, Gabe reviewed the study guide at least an hour a day and even took the guide with him on trips to weekend wrestling meets. His parents would ask him to spell words and use them in context during day-to-day activities.

Gabe said the words were tougher this year than last year. But that wasn’t all that was different about this year’s bee. The organizers had to use a new format for the competition because of COVID-19, said Chris Watkins, an employee of the Lawrence Journal-World, which sponsors the bee.

There wasn’t a moderator or a winning word, and students didn’t take turns spelling. Instead, the bee looked more like a timed online spelling test. Contestants were required to spell 25 words and also had to answer multiple-choice questions that asked them to identify the grammatically correct usages and meanings of words. The test was offered online from Feb. 1 through Feb. 22 at eight Douglas County elementary and middle schools.

Gabe said he missed a few words in the spelling section, but he did very well on the grammar and meaning questions, finishing with a score of 38 out of a possible 50. Bishop Seabury Academy student Charles Maples, who won the bee last year, and Eudora Middle School student Elijah Clobes tied for second place with 33 correct answers apiece.

While Gabe said he missed competing in person, he also thought the online bee was less stressful than spelling words on stage in front of an audience.

As the county spelling bee champion, Gabe will soon compete in the state bee, a prospect that has him excited and nervous. According to its sponsor, the Kansas Press Association, the state bee will be offered online in the last week of March.

Also competing in this year’s spelling bee were Ruth Fieleke, Veritas Christian School; Neel Sabarwal, Southwest Middle School; Bronx Bennett, Hillcrest Elementary; Kim Bates, Lawrence Virtual School; and Olivia Storey, West Middle School.


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