WESTFIELD, NJ — The 71 fourth and fifth grade participants of the 31st Annual Junior Women’s Club of Westfield Spelling Bee were down to just five for Thursday night’s finals at Westfield High School. The words came rapidly from pronouncer Kathleen Walker.

“Hopscotch” – correct. Then came the word “humorous.”  Incorrect. It wasn’t so funny in this case, because now there were four left. Next was “prejudice.” Incorrect.

And with that the final three were guaranteed spots in the New Jersey Federation of Women’s Clubs District Spelling Bee on Feb. 18.

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Claire Qin, a fourth grader from McKinley Elementary School, won by spelling the word “September” correctly — making sure to begin with a capital S.

Michael Singh, a fifth grader from Jefferson Elementary came in second place. Emily Gao, a fifth grader from Washington Elementary came in third.

“It feels really good and I’m really proud of myself for achieving it,” said Qin quietly and with a big smile. “I didn’t have any experience.” It was her first ever competitive spelling bee.  Her mother, also with a proud smile, stood next to her.

“I was very surprised. Before we came here she was very nervous,” said Joy Qin. “I just told her to try your best and stay calm and she did try her best. It was great.”

All three winners stated their excitement as they looked forward to the next round of competition.

“It’s my favorite event each year at the Junior Women’s Club,” said Walker, in her fourth year at the event. “The kids have so much courage and confidence and I find it very uplifting.”

A frequent contributor to TAPinto Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports (a sports program for children of all abilities) and the sports editor of Education Update. Email him at throwbacksports@verizon.net.