Princeton student, Robert Esposito, advances to national spelling bee

(St. Joseph News Press) – Robert Esposito certainly had no reason to resort to a “jeremiad” upon winning the 2016 Northwest Missouri Regional Spelling Bee on Saturday.

The Princeton R-V eighth-grader correctly spelled the word to take the title, during an afternoon of quietly intense competition held at the St. Francis Xavier Parish Center.

According to Webster’s, jeremiad is a noun that refers to a long, mournful complaint or lamentation, a list of woes. That doesn’t describe the incredulity Robert felt upon taking the title — and next moving on to nationals. It marked his third appearance at regionals.

“I just couldn’t believe it, honestly,” he said. “I never thought I’d go that many rounds. It’s really astonishing.”

It took a marathon 62 rounds — spanning more than 2½ hours — before Robert could claim victory. His success also came after correctly spelling “punctilio” — defined as a minute detail of conduct in a ceremony or in observance of a code — in Round 61.

Second-place finisher Sophie Nguyen, a fifth-grader from Oak Grove Elementary School, failed to correctly spell “menhaden” — a type of marine fish from the herring family.


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Robert had been studying and testing over the past couple of months with school staff and his family, including time after school. His parents are Reggie and Maria Peace of Princeton.

A total of 27 students from 14 counties — constituting 14 boys and 13 girls — were entered in the regionals, said bee director Karen Heyde-Lipanovich, who also served as the pronouncer.

A total of 600 words were available for the day, although only 254 had to be used.

Organizers almost seemed to breathe a sigh of relief after the bee ended. Heyde-Lipanovich said she has never seen this many rounds for her 25 years with the program, a feat she termed “very impressive.”

There are reasons why Robert said enjoys this kind of academic rivalry.

“I was just never really athletic,” he said. “I was more intelligent than I ever would be athletic. So, this spelling bee came along and then I thought, ‘Maybe I should do this.’ In fifth grade, I did the classroom bee and I didn’t get to county. But I was the first sixth-grader to get to regionals.”

Now it’s time to prepare for the national bee.

The regional event is sponsored annually by the St. Joseph News-Press and is a preliminary event for the Scripps National Spelling Bee — to be held May 22 to 27 in Washington, D.C. The winner of the regional event, along with an adult sponsor, receives a trip to the bee in Washington provided by the News-Press and a Webster’s Dictionary provided by Merriam-Webster Inc. The runner-up in the regional event receives a tablet computer provided by the News-Press.