WHEELER — It took nearly 30 rounds of competition, but two hours later, Daniel Sibincic won the Kankakee Valley REMC Regional Spelling Bee on Wednesday at Wheeler High School.
Sibincic, 14, an eighth-grader at Taft Middle School in Crown Point, earned a trip to Washington, D.C., by correctly spelling cambio, which is a money exchange.
Elise Hibbard, 12, a seventh-grader at Highland Middle School, placed second, while Adam Akan, 13, an eighth-grader at Forest Ridge Academy in Schererville, took third.
In addition to other prizes, the top three finishers received glass trophies and cash awards. Sibincic and another family member will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the nation’s capital for the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 27 to June 1.
Sibincic, who will attend Crown Point High School this fall, was a first-time contestant at the regionals after placing sixth at the district level.
“I’ve been practicing since February,” said Sibincic, noting the toughest part was “memorizing all the words I could.”
Students were tested on words taken from a study list through round 12, after which they received new words. By then, 13 of the 19 contestants had bowed out with an incorrect spelling.
It was not until round 21 that the three finalists were decided. Then, six rounds later, Akan tripped on the word agave and Hibbard misspelled potsherd. That left it up to Sibincic, who had no trouble with cambio.
In a tie-breaker, Akan had trouble with myocardiograph, but Hibbard correctly spelled chrysanthemum for the number two spot.
Sibincic, who said he reads a lot, is also a history buff. He also has a full plate of academic competitions. In addition to spelling, he is also entered in the state Geography Bee, Academic Super Bowl and Science Olympiad.
“I study hard and read everything I can,” Sibincic said. “The toughest part was just keeping my nerves. I had to stay calm, cool, collected.”
Prior to that final round, Sibincic said the toughest word he faced was leechcraft. He said his mother helped him prepare, but Tina Sibincic deflected the credit.
“He did it all on his own,” the mother said. “He’s a good student. He’s my little genius.”
Liz Franklin, a sixth-grade teacher and academic competition coach at Taft, described Sibincic as a “very bright young man, a very humble young man, not arrogant for being as bright as he is. He makes the most of his opportunities.”
Hibbard, competing at regionals for the second time, said, “I studied the words I was provided, and sometimes I also looked in the dictionary.”
Akan, a regionals contestant since fourth grade, noted, “I memorized what I could, but you can’t memorize everything. I memorized patterns, like words with e-o-u-s.”
A Dyer resident, Akan plans to attend St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago this fall.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is said to be the nation’s largest and longest-running educational promotion.