Media firestorm erupts after Lee’s Summit girl duels in spelling bee for 66 rounds

tporter@lsjournal.comFebruary 26, 2014 

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    Rounds that Sophia Hoffman of Lee’s Summit and Kush Sharma of Kansas City dueled before Jackson County Spelling Bee officials ran out of words. The two will spell-off March 8 to determine a winner.

Sophia Hoffman’s media tour was unplanned, unscripted and unimaginable for an 11-year-old fifth-grade student.

However, the Lee’s Summit girl who has made national headlines for a spelling bee showdown at last weekend’s finals of the Jackson County Spelling Bee is relishing the opportunity to appear on such shows as Good Morning America and on national television outlets – CNN, among them.

Sophia, a student at Highland Park Elementary, and Kush Sharma, a seventh-grade student at Frontier School of Innovation in Kansas City, dueled for 66 rounds during the bee Feb. 22 at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch before officials declared they had run out of words and set a March 8 date for a spell-off.

The showdown was so epic it soon became national news by Feb. 24 and on Feb. 25 Sophia and Kush were sharing the national spotlight during segments on CNN and ABC.

The lights, cameras and action of the big city didn’t seem to faze Sophia.

“It’s been really good,” she said Feb. 25 via telephone from New York City where the family was preparing a return trip home after her network appearances. “I was really excited about the opportunity to get to go to New York. I’m really excited.”

Sophia’s turn in the limelight should not come as a surprise to those that know the Hoffman family. Older sister Jordan is a two-time Eastern Jackson County Spelling Bee champion and a two-time participant in the nationally-televised Scripps National Spelling Bee held yearly near Washington. D.C.

Jordan, a freshman in high school now, is also an accomplished musician with a penchant for charity-related songs and benefit concerts.

Sophia has been there along side Jordan soaking up what has now become her young star-in-the-making opportunity.

“I always enjoy being close by her,” Sophia said of her older sister.

Sophia and Jordan’s father, Mark Hoffman, said Sophia has enjoyed the media blitz that has swarmed the family in recent days.

“It’s been a very exciting experience for all of us,” he said. “I would say on Saturday we really didn’t expect the level of attention, but we think that it’s great for kids across the country to see academics celebrated. She’s having a good time. She enjoyed being on camera this morning.”

The Jackson County Spelling Bee will resume at 9 a.m. March 8 in the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Library’s Helzberg Auditorium. It has not been revealed if the spell-off will be opened to the public. Judging by all of the media attention, Mark Hoffman said, he would not be surprised if all were welcomed to what might be a first in Jackson County Spelling Bee history.

“We’re not sure it’s open to the public, but my guess with all the media attention it probably will be,” he said, before adding that he agrees with the public ‘send them both’ outcry that would like to see Sophia and Kush both represent Jackson County at the national competition.

Social media site Twitter even has a trending hashtag (#sendthemboth) urging officials to consider that option.

The young spellers showed well during their segments on live television but the showdown Feb. 22 made Mark Hoffman a believer that the two both deserve a chance in D.C.

“We were just so proud of Sophia and we were very impressed with Kush,” he said. “They both showed – just hanging in there was very impressive.”

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