Adora Zhang won the 2024 Thunder Regional Spelling Bee, receiving a sponsorship to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy OKC Thunder

Say it, spell it, say it.

This is a practice that Tenley Sorum uses when preparing for a spelling bee. That, plus taking the time each day to study word lists.

Turns out, it’s an award-winning approach. The 10-year-old is a repeat winner in her school spelling bee in Salina. She also participated in April’s Eastern Oklahoma State Spelling Bee in Muskogee.

“I think it’s exciting,” says Tenley, who is one of thousands of Oklahoma students in kindergarten through eighth grade who compete in local and regional spelling bees.

Amanda Sorum, Tenley’s mother, says she believes her daughter’s involvement in spelling bees has resulted in gains at school, such as improved test scores. Tenley is also an avid reader, dedicates herself to tasks and her school work and has “the most amazing memory I’ve ever seen,” says her mom. 

Repeat winner Tenley Sorum, a 10-year-old student from Salina, adds some extra pizzazz to the Eastern Oklahoma State Bee by wearing a bee-themed outfit. Photo courtesy EOSB

Amanda says it’s exciting to watch her daughter compete, and she hopes the spelling bees foster a desire for Tenley to keep growing in her knowledge.

Tenley said she plans to keep competing in bees and encourages other students to give it a go.

“Sign up for it because you never know. You might come home winning,” she says.

Coordinators of the competitions say the experience benefits students in a variety of ways, from learning new words to boosting self-confidence.

“The spelling bee is such an iconic event that celebrates education and, specifically, the knowledge that each student gains who participates in this process,” says Aaron Liversedge, event coordinator for the KJRH 2 Cares for Kids Spelling Bee. “It teaches them the importance of studying, preparing and focusing, which will benefit them now and as they pursue their education and career.”

Students have opportunities to compete in their school bees, with winners advancing to regional competitions. For some who win at the regional level, they can then compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in late May. 

Coordinators say students get ready for spelling bees by studying provided word lists and study guides. 

Nico Reens won the KJRH 2 Cares for Kids Spelling Bee for the Tulsa region. “I’m excited to go to the nation’s capital and represent Green Country,” he says. Photo courtesy KJRH

Spelling bees offer educational rewards, plus some extra perks for students who advance in the competitions, such as trophies, certificates, medals and in some events, financial benefits.

Susan Hoog, director of the Eastern Oklahoma State Bee, says winners at the event receive checks for her or his school, a trophy and an individual cash prize. She works to make the event a remarkable and fun affair for participants, with a red-carpet entry, T-shirts, medals and an atmosphere where “everybody is a winner” – celebrating the students’ hard work to reach the competition itself. 

“I love being able to see them shine,” says Hoog.

Students at the Thunder Regional Spelling Bee also get the all-star treatment.

“We roll out the blue carpet to celebrate the achievements earned by all the participants. We have the unique ability to host the bee at the Paycom Center, which is a really fun way to tie Thunder basketball to the bee,” says Erin Oldfield, director of community engagement with the OKC Thunder. “The bee takes place on the court, and when the students and their families walk in they see their names in lights, and the announcer calls out their names.”

Coordinators say it’s rewarding to be involved in the events that highlight literacy and academic achievement and that, hopefully, can spur a lifelong passion for learning. 

“A spelling bee can spark a love of language that will serve them their whole lives,” says Oldfield.

Previous articleOil & Gas Country
Next articlePacking a Punch