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Seniors swing by West Jordan for a spell

WEST JORDAN — Last month, it was two eighth-graders who shared National Spelling Bee trophy. On Wednesday, some more experienced spellers got their chance to shine.

Nineteen contestants — all 60 years old and older from all over the Salt Lake Valley — gathered at the Viridian Event Center, 8030 S. 1825 West, for the fourth annual Senior Spelling Bee.

"In order to stay in shape you have to work out," said Bev Uipi, manager for the Millcreek Senior Center, which organized the competition. "Same thing with your mental wellness. In order to maintain that brain, exercise activities and events that we hold such as the spelling bee … help older adults as they age to just keep exercising their brain."

For returning contestant Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books, it was a chance for his children to help tutor him, instead of the other way around.

"My kids have all been good spellers," Bench said. "I always used to help them with their spelling bees and they always did very well. So it's kind of in the blood and in the family."

Bench's son, Landon Bench, said that his family couldn't escape words, and it was his turn to support his father.

Contestants were given the list of words two weeks in advance. Some spent hours studying the words that could be Greek, Latin, French or German in origin.

"It's just motivation," contestant Clay Michaelis said. "It's not enough to say, 'I'm going to do this,' you have to want to do it."

Once the competition began, contestants navigated through words like quotidian, ad nauseam and loquacious. But the chairs on stage slowly emptied as contestants stumbled over spellings like mosquito and tautology.

"We are literally all on the same page," Bench said. "We've studied the same words, we're all seniors — though I'd hate to admit that. I think it's pretty equal competition."

After more than 21 rounds, Bench was the only contestant left standing.

"It's a great relief," he said about his place in the event, "There's a lot of pressure off now. It was a real challenge. There were a lot of terrific spellers here today."

Bench received a bucket of goodies from AARP, one of the event sponsors, that included movie tickets, a $25 Visa card and zoo tickets.

Emy Davis, who finished second, and Andy Andrews, the third place winner, also won prizes and all contestants received tickets for a Salt Lake Bees baseball game.

"It is fun, but it is a challenge," Bench said. "But it wouldn't be fun if it wasn't a challenge."

Email: klarsen@deseretnews.com