Spell-binding finish

Christina Benitscheck, 11, of Clovis won the regional spelling bee Saturday morning at Clovis Community College. The winning word was chimichanga. She advances to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. (CNJ Staff Photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Christina Benitscheck survived a pentathlon, a howitzer and even a sayonara — but she never said goodbye.

By spelling those words, and 30 others, correctly, she punched her ticket to Washington, D.C., as the winner of Saturday’s regional spelling bee, sponsored by Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico.

Christina, an 11-year-old from Clovis, spelled “chimichanga” correctly in the 33rd round of the bee, which featured 30 spellers from Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties who competed on the Clovis Community College stage.

A student from the Home School Pact, Christina battled with Stephanie Stancell of Clovis Area Home Educators for 12 rounds after third-place finisher Chloe Williamson, a sixth-grader at the Arts Academy at Bella Vista, missed “autobahn,” a high-speed road.

Christina got her chance at victory when Stephanie missed “pumpernickel,” a type of bread. Christina correctly spelled “alchemy” before competing alone in the 33rd round.

When she heard her final word, a commonly known term in the Southwest for a tortilla folded in triangular packages and filled with a wide range of ingredients, Christina admitted excitement. After she spelled the word, she made a small victory leap and got a congratulatory yell in the audience from her brother Tom, a senior psychology major at Texas Tech.

In addition to the trip to the national bee, scheduled for May 30-31, Christina won a $20 Amazon.com gift certificate, a $100 U.S. Savings Bond, a dictionary, and a subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

She was joined at the bee by Tom and her mother, Judy Benitscheck.

“Even though I went over those words with her, sometimes I didn’t remember them myself,” Judy said. “But she seemed very confident.”

On each word, Christina dipped slightly toward the microphone to give one letter, backed away and repeated the process for the next letter. While other spellers took their turns, she spelled the words out to herself in silence to keep focus.

“I didn’t want any mistakes,” Christina said. “I always wanted to make sure I was spelling it right.”

During a 15-minute intermission after the third round, Christina kept busy by knitting. Judy, who owns a tax preparation service in Clovis, said it helps calm her daughter down.

“She’s just started a scarf,” Judy said. “She might finish it (in Washington).”