Winner emerges after a long spell Fort Johnson's Duffy takes regional bee title

Fort Johnson Middle School student Owen Duffy gets applause from fellow spellers after winning Spellbound! on Wednesday at Lightsey Chapel at Charleston Southern University.

Owen Duffy of Fort Johnson Middle School won Spellbound!, the Lowcountry’s regional spelling bee on Wednesday after a competition that seemed at times like it might go on all night.

It took nearly three hours for the field of 50 of the area’s top spellers to be narrowed to the top two — Duffy and Elizabeth Ludlam of Divine Redeemer — in the competition at the Lightsey Chapel on the Charleston Southern University campus.

Then things started seesawing, with both competitors at times spelling words incorrectly.

Cupola. Treatise. Luncheonette. Concision.

Word after word for more than 30 minutes, as audience members slumped in their seats, many closing their eyes and some even snoring.

When Ludlam, 14, misspelled “amorphous,” Duffy spelled it correctly and went on to win the competition by spelling “hydrangea,” bringing the crowd to its feet.

The two spellers had very different tactics, with Duffy, 13, often spelling after hearing the word once or twice, while Ludlam worked through words slowly and deliberately, asking for origins, alternate pronunciations and sentences.

Afterward, Duffy said he reads a lot, but he limited his studying to the car ride on the way to the competition. He is the son of Sheri and Brian Duffy of James Island. His father teaches physical education at his school.

He acknowledged that he was at times lucky.

“I had never even heard some of those words before,” he said.

Ludlam, who also was first runner-up last year, said she has been studying daily.

The daughter of Gary and Cheryl Ludlam of Goose Creek, she will be too old to compete next year, but her mother noted that she has three younger siblings.

Duffy will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., with a parent and escort to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee from May 26 to June 1, courtesy of event sponsors The Post and Courier and Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union.

His mother, who works for Delta, said it is likely the entire family, which includes an older brother and sister and young brother, will attend the event.

The spellers were culled from an original field of more than 34,000 students throughout the Lowcountry. They represented Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4 school districts, as well as Lowcountry Catholic schools, the South Carolina Independent School Association, and Lowcountry Home and Private Schools.