By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
Joe Kirkpatrick made his hometown proud. He sailed all the way to the semifinal competition in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington. That means Kirkpatrick, 14, belongs to an elite corps of spellers at the top of the prestigious contest involving 281 competitors.
Thursday, Kirkpatrick was one of 33 spellers remaining when the word “ignimbrite” got in his path. “We’re very proud of him. He made it to the semifinals,” said Amy Winter, The Herald Bulletin’s circulation and marketing director and organizer of Anderson’s spelling bee, sponsored by The Herald Bulletin. “It’s great for the community. It’s great for his family. What a great representation for Anderson.”
Cool as a cucumber in front of a crush of media cameras, Kirkpatrick not only had to spell things like “dudgeon,” (and, no, that’s not dungeon), he had to provide synonyms for other, sometimes rather cryptic words, demonstrating that he not only can spell the words, he understands them.
Kirkpatrick, a Highland Middle School eighth-grader, rose steadily through the spelling ranks at the national event that started Tuesday, both through computer and oral tests. He achieved his goal of breaking into the semifinal competition, up against 41 other spelling mavens.
About 3 o’clock Thursday afternoon, Kirkpatrick tackled his round five, semifinal word, ignimbrite (a hard, volcanic rock). Kirkpatrick started to spell the word, then stopped. He took a moment to “write” the word out with his finger, then proceeded to spell the word out loud, missing it by a single letter. Still, as the camera captured a shot of Kirkpatrick’s mom, Andrea, in the audience, she wore a broad smile — clearly proud of her son.
“We're so excited that he did so well this year,” said Kirkpatrick’s dad, Shane, via email. “Making the semifinals was a big goal for him; he had not done that in the past.”
Kirkpatrick made the trip to Washington with his entire family including mom and dad, as well as twin sister, Elli, and younger sister, Meghan. They left early so they could take in some of the sights of Washington. Kirkpatrick has been documenting all of his activities on his blog.
The Kirkpatrick family visited the National Archives and got their picture taken in front of the White House. They rode the subway to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. They also went to Turkey Run Park and the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, Va., for a spelling bee sponsored barbecue and festival.
This was Kirkpatrick’s third and last trip to the national spelling competition. Fourteen years of age is the top limit for participants. It remains to be seen what new challenges the book-loving, sax-playing, technology guy will tackle next.