Benjamin Cruz, Idyllwild School eighth-grader, artist and recent third-place finisher in the Hemet Unified 36th annual spelling bee. Photo by Marshall Smith

Idyllwild School eighth-grader Benjamin Cruz placed third out of 44 students from 22 Hemet Unified School District elementary and middle schools. This was the district’s 36th annual spelling bee.

“It’s the highest finish of any Idyllwild School student at the district bee that I can recall in the 15 years I’ve been involved,” said former Idyllwild School teacher Diane D’Arcy, who has long helmed the Idyllwild School bee. The district bee was held at the Hemet District office on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Ben was the middle school runner-up at the local school’s Jan. 17 bee. Middle School winner Dilyn Selkirk, sixth grade, finished 9th at the district bee.

Idyllwild elementary school winner Maggie McKimson, fifth grade, and runner up Sophia Carver, fourth grade, made it to the third round of the district bee before being eliminated, according to D’Arcy.

All contestants are given a study list of typical words, said D’Arcy, but that is no guarantee the listed words will be the ones used in the contest. In fact, beginning in round five of the district bee, words not on the study list were used.

Ben Cruz made it to round 13 when he failed to correctly spell “recuperate.” The bee continued to 18 rounds before crowning winner Diamond Valley Middle School sixth grade student Suryansh Kumar. Suryansh’s sister Kriti was district champion last year.

D’Arcy was proud of the Idyllwild School competitors this year and all years. “We put on a good bee,” she said.