Johnsonville eighth-grader wins regional spelling bee

February 6, 2018 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. – Exceptional elementary and middle school spellers from across the region came together Monday for the Pee Dee Regional Spelling Bee competition at Francis Marion University.

Eighth-grader Abby Zheng of Johnsonville Middle School was the eventual winner.

The event began with all 28 participants entering the stage for a practice round in which no one could be eliminated. Following this one-word practice round, the competition became a knockout with one word per participant in each round. If spelled incorrectly, that participant was out and would collect their participation trophy.

This process continued for 20 consecutive rounds until the competition was whittled down to just twoparticipants.

Zheng won by correctly spelling the word “sukiyaki.”

Sixth-grader Jacob Mijalli of Latta Middle School finished runner-up.

To be eligible for the regional bee, students had to meet certain criteria. A student wishing to compete must be under the age of 16, must be in grades 5-8 and had to have won the spelling championship of their respective school.


The competition was hotly contested, with the winner gaining eligibility to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington, D.C.

A panel of judges for the event consisted of Jumana Swindler, the vice president of public relations at McLeod Health, and Tucker Mitchell, the vice president of communications at Francis Marion University.

Darryl Bridges, the vice president for development and executive director of the Francis Marion UniversityEducation Foundation, played the pronouncer and host role for the event.

The Pee Dee Education Center was the title host and one of the main sponsors of the event. However, the Florence County Bar Association and Francis Marion University also were main sponsors of the event. The trophies for the competition were donated by the American Trophy Company of Florence.

Keith Callicutt, the co-director of the Pee Dee Education Center, was impressed with the ability of children these ages to spell such complex words, but he was more impressed by their composure to spell such words on stage.

“The manner in which these young people handle the pressure, I think, is absolutely amazing,” Callicutt said. “It sounds easy, until you get up there and try it.”