7th-grader claims 3rd spelling bee title
The reigning Putnam County School District Spelling Bee champion almost didn’t clinch a third title Friday … almost.
Armand Küykendall, a seventh-grade Miller Middle School student, went neck and neck with Melrose Elementary School fifth-grader Connor Huntley for more than 20 rounds at the Putnam County Government Complex in Palatka.
“Agitation” tripped up Küykendall. But, just as the champion thought his reign had ended, Huntley also misspelled his word.
Both students were back in the game until Küykendall seized the first-place trophy 24 rounds into the spelling bee by correctly spelling “insulin.”
Huntley misspelled “amalgam,” causing him to fall into second place.
The victor’s parents, Rebecca and Kim Horn, said they were shaking as the bee came down to two contestants.
Rebecca Horn teared up as she watched Küykendall hold up his trophy because she said life hasn’t always been kind to her son.
“From him not being able to speak at 3 years old and just point and scream, and with his teachers and stuff and psychiatrist, he’s come a really long way,” she said.
Küykendall lives with autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder and was abused and abandoned before going to the Horn family.
Despite setbacks, Küykendall’s parents said the three-time champ works hard.
“Spelling’s his superpower,” Kim Horn said.
Küykendall and Huntley competed against 11 other school district students. Kaitlynn Wilson, an Interlachen Elementary School fifth-grader, finished in third place after misspelling the word “indigo” in the eighth round.
The Huntley family said second place wasn’t bad. Jackie Huntley said she trained for hours with her son, but it was his dedication that brought him to such a high level.
Connor Huntley felt good after the bee was finally over. He did, however, have one message for school district officials.
“Save Melrose Elementary,” Connor Huntley said. “Don’t close it down.”
The fifth-grader’s message came nearly three weeks after Melrose residents protested the possible closure of numerous schools, including Melrose. The Putnam County School District board proposed closing some schools to save money because of aging infrastructure.
None of the changes were mentioned during the spelling bee.
Smiles and congratulations filled the government complex as the champions posed for pictures and talked to school district officials about their wins.
“(I feel) good,” Küykendall said. “It’s even better because no one’s (won) three times in a row period.”
Küykendall will go on to compete in the regional spelling bee March 29.
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