Langston Hughes fifth-grader repeats as Douglas County Spelling Bee champion

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Maci Perrins is pictured on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 after winning the Douglas County Spelling Bee.

There is nothing unusual about a Perrins winning a Douglas County Spelling Bee.

Maci Perrins, a Langston Hughes Elementary student, won the county spelling bee last year, and she repeated as champion on Saturday, besting 23 other spellers to claim the 2024 county spelling bee title at an event at Lawrence’s Billy Mills Middle School.

Perrins was keeping up the family tradition, following her sister Bryn’s win in 2016 and her brother Ethan’s win in 2014. Still, this year’s championship was different for Maci, now a fifth-grader at Langston Hughes.

“It was more personal,” Maci said.

That’s because her brother Isaac Perrins, an eighth-grader at Southwest Middle School, was on the stage as a fellow competitor.

That made it a bit different for the parents, Erik and Kristi Perrins, as well.

“That was new for us, having two,” Kristi said. “Double the nerves.”

Those nerves stretched on for a while. Isaac, the county spelling bee runner-up in 2020, made it to round eight, and ultimately finished in fourth place. Maci ended up topping Thomas Cici of Bishop Seabury Academy, who took runner-up, and Patrick Plumlee of West Middle School, who took third.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Thomas Cici is pictured on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 after placing as the runner-up in the Douglas County Spelling Bee.

Maci and Thomas battled head-to-head for six rounds until Maci won in the 17th round by successfully spelling the word “legato,” a musical term for notes that flow together.

Kind of like back-to-back championships.

But legato may not be the word that Maci most remembers from this bee. That might be “animatronics.” That word came to Maci in the second round of the contest, and there was a question of whether the champ would conquer it.

Yes, Maci had seen it before. She said there wasn’t a word that she received in this bee that she hadn’t seen and studied before, but that doesn’t mean she’s an animatronic robot that can automatically recall the spelling of every word that passes in front of her.

“I knew the word, but sometimes when it gets in my head, it can get mixed up,” she said.

Maci didn’t end up needing to rue that word forever, but other competitors certainly left with their own to forever hate. In round five there was “comedienne,” which is a female comedian. Not funny. In round seven, there was “attrition.” Too true.

But it likely won’t be the words that stand out about this particular bee, but rather the family. Maci said the bee was more personal than others she’s competed in, but not in the sense that she had a grudge match with her brother.

“It was different. Like before, if I beat the person sitting next to me, I felt bad for them, but it was not like they are my brother,” Maci said. “This time it was harder to accept the win because I know he can’t, and I think he would have felt the same way.”

Participants qualified to compete in the county spelling bee, which is hosted by the Journal-World, by winning a spelling bee at their respective elementary or middle schools. Other qualifiers at the bee were: Reed Lisher, Baldwin Junior High; Evie Heltne, Baldwin Intermediate Center; Ari Newton, Billy Mills Middle School; Zia Coleman, Cordley Elementary; Emery Bailey, Corpus Christi Catholic School; Henry Lamb, Deerfield Elementary; Chazley Thomas, Eudora Elementary; Rachel Magette, Eudora Middle School; Anna Lawrence, Hillcrest Elementary; Kai Allen, Lawrence Virtual School; Kingsley Maxwell, Liberty Memorial Central Middle School; Henny Brubacher, New York Elementary; Molly Bierschbach, Prairie Park Elementary; Oscar Bartak, Quail Run Elementary; Eliza Tagliaferri, Raintree Montessori School; Lugain Eltom, Schwegler Elementary; Emma Webb, St. John Catholic School; Ethan Gipson, Sunflower Elementary; Henry Apprill, Sunset Hill Elementary; Palmer Postlethwait, Veritas Christian School; Jeremy Cobler, Woodlawn Elementary.

Saturday’s event also was a finale for three longtime judges of the bee, which is a sanctioned qualifying event for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The three judges — retired Lawrence teachers Deborah Norwood, Sue Vossler and Linda Longino — had more than 40 years of combined service as judges at the Douglas County Spelling Bee.

Maci’s win in Saturday’s event qualifies her for the state spelling bee, which she took fourth place in last year. This year’s state bee is scheduled for March 23 at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina. The winner of the state spelling bee will qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Maci and Isaac Perrins are pictured on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 after the siblings both placed in the top four in the Douglas County Spelling Bee.

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