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HANFORD — After a few days of competition, the 2017 Kings County Spelling Bee is heating up and not only was the title on the line Wednesday morning during the fifth-grade round, so was a shot at attending the state spelling competition.

“This was probably the most exciting [round] that I’ve seen,” Spelling Bee coordinator Leana Cantrell said of the fifth-grade portion of the competition.

The fifth-grade round went a little differently than some of the other rounds because after the first- and second-place spellers were determined, a set of three students had to go back on stage and compete for third place because they had all been knocked-out of the competition previously by the same word. Cantrell said this out-of-order style of competition has happened before, though not often. The word that stumped many of the students: acquitted.

After 2 ½ hours of competition with 21 students, Annika Twiford from Pioneer Elementary School was the winner of the fifth-grade portion of the Spelling Bee, with Alexis Perez from Mark Twain Elementary coming in second place. After going many rounds with two other students, Xitlali Lara from Martin Luther King Elementary School spelled her way into third place.

This was Annika’s third time competing in the Spelling Bee and first time winning. She said she felt happy because in previous years she had never made it past the third round of the competition. She said she was nervous during the bee, but by the end, she realized she had a chance.

Annika’s parents, Andrew and Amy Twiford said they were proud of their daughter and excited about her opportunity to go to the state competition. When his daughter was sad after being eliminated early in her first year competing in the bee, Andrew Twiford said he jokingly thanked her for misspelling a word because he said he was bored and wanted to leave early anyway.

After Annika was one of the top five spellers left this year, Andrew Twiford said during a break he kept the family joke going by telling her she might as well win because he had sat through the competition for so long already.

“I was like, ‘just go ahead and win’,” Andrew said laughing.

To celebrate, the Twiford family said they were going to take a short trip across from the Hanford Civic Auditorium to Superior Dairy and have some ice cream. Annika said she would start studying for the fifth-grade portion of the state Spelling Bee after she was done celebrating her win.

Along with Annika, Cantrell said the winners from Friday’s seventh- and eighth-grade rounds get to travel to Stockton in May to compete in the state finals, where all the winners from the different counties compete. She said the Kings County Office of Education sponsors the three winners’ entry fees, while parents take care of the travel expenses.

Cantrell said the second-grade round on Tuesday was “a very intense competition,” with the bee lasting for almost four hours of spelling. She said the second-grade students ended up almost halfway into the third-grade spelling word list, which has never happened.

“We were not anticipating second-graders bringing their A-game like that, but they totally did,” Cantrell said, adding the students correctly spelled words that have normally given students trouble in the past.

The third- and fourth-grade rounds of the Spelling Bee on Wednesday went well, though Cantrell said the rounds went faster than expected. She said during one of the rounds there was a very nice moment when a student on stage got a tissue and gave it to another student who was crying. She said moments like those between competitors are always great to see.

Cantrell said the seventh- and eighth-grade rounds can get especially competitive because many of the students have participated in the bee before, and have competed against the same students previously. She said she is looking forward to seeing what the older kids can do.

“It does become more of a real hardcore competition for them,” Cantrell said. “Their words are also harder, so [the rounds] might go a little bit quicker.”

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