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Top spellers competing from home

Like dozens of other veteran spellers in their final year of eligibility, Anson Cook had big plans for this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 13-year-old eighth-grader from Potomac, Mary­land, was a two-time participant in the bee, and last year he finished in a tie for 41st. His objective was to make it into the top 12 or so who participate in the prime-time, ESPN-televised finals.

“My goal for 2020 was to make it to the finals of Scripps. After the cancellation I was like, ‘What do I do now?’ And now I’ve achieved that goal,” Anson said.

He reached his goal by becoming one of the 16 finalists in the SpellPundit National Online Spelling Bee, a new event created by two teenage ex-spellers to fill the void left by the cancellation and give eighth-graders one last chance to compete. The National Spelling Bee has always been limited to kids in middle and elementary school, and Scripps has said it will not extend eligibility to allow ninth-graders to participate next year.

The champion receives $2,500, a pittance compared to the National Spelling Bee’s first prize of $50,000, but worth a middle-schooler’s time and effort all the same.

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