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Gigi Ekstrom
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Mara Sandberg, left, and Kira Willis

Kyra Willis found herself in a familiar spot on Friday morning. After finishing as runner-up in both the 2014 and 2013 Lakehill Spelling Bees, as well as runner-up in the 2012 Spelling Bee at Tyler Street Christian Academy, the seventh grader again found herself face to face against a formidable competitor, fifth grade spelling sensation Mara Sandberg, in the final round of this year's Bee on January 16.

But it was Willis's winning combination of the words, papyrus and symphonic, that finally earned her the title of Lakehill's Spelling Bee Champion. After many rounds of competition, Willis edged out Sandberg for the title, with Sandberg going out on staccato.

The competition was so intense that Spelling Bee Coordinator Julie Riggs ran out of words - over 135 of them. "I had a standby list from previous years, but it was just too hard," said Riggs. "They were not getting any of them-- too many were based on foreign words. I spent an hour generating another list, and I had 60-- but only used seven!"

 "Kira and Mara could not be tricked by any words that they had studied," said Riggs. "It was only when they went off the list that trouble ensued."

Last year's champion Tyler McCall, the last eighth grader in the competition, took third place, going out on officious. Eighth grader Kumail Iman took fourth, going out on heiress. Nathan Lewis was the last sixth grader standing, while James McKinney was the last fourth grader in the competition.

Lakehill's  eighth annual Spelling Bee attracted 55 interested students in fourth through eighth grades. Each year students from all over the country compete for the chance to represent their schools and communities in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Willis will now compete on February 17 at the DCS Training Building against winners from other Dallas County private schools.

"The next list contains some of the challenge words I used in our Bee," said Riggs. "They have over 700 words to study!"

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