BY JOEY REISTROFFER
SPARTANBURG — Thanks to a kielbasa, Sonny Bandigas, an eighth-grader at St. Paul School, earned a trip to Washington to participate in the national spelling bee.
The 14-year-old won an all-expense-paid trip to the 78th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee May 31-June 2 by correctly spelling “kielbasa” in the final round of the three-county regional contest sponsored by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal Celebrate Community.
But it wasn’t that simple in the final round against Caitlin White of Sims Junior High in Union. White misspelled “blancmange,” a sweet white pudding. That opened the door for Bandigas, who was given “ghurry,” a water instrument used for measuring time, to spell for the win. But he missed it.
Bandigas’ brother, Ray, a three-time national spelling bee contestant from St. Paul, stepped in and challenged the judges on the pronunciation of “ghurry.” He said they pronounced it with an “a” instead of a “u.”
Thank goodness for big brothers. The judges agreed that they had goofed, and they gave Sonny the smoked Polish sausage to spell for the win, which he did.
Patty Lanthier, the principal at St. Paul, said that Sonny is an excellent student who has taken it upon himself to study day and night for the bee. She said he has found lists of old national spelling bee words and pored over them. He also has studied books on root words and has received excellent advice from his brother, Ray. Ray, a junior at the University of South Carolina, made it to the nationals from 1996 through 1998. Their sister, Rowena, made it to the regional round in 1998 and 1999. Now it’s Sonny’s turn.
Sonny said the spelling bee is a family tradition. He wants to do well because he looks up to his big brother.
“I want to follow in his footsteps,” he said.
“Sonny does a lot of it on his own,” Lanthier said. “We have spelling in class. He liked it, and he just kept at it.”
Now it is Sonny’s time to shine in Washington.