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Meet the Knights of Columbus spelling bee champion who only spelled one word

LANSING, Ill. (January 29, 2024) – Maame Djondo didn’t misspell a single word during Saturday’s Knights of Columbus spelling bee. And it’s a good thing too, because a single word is all she got.

In fact, Djondo’s word — “cancel” — was the only word spelled on Saturday morning, as she was the only participant in the event.

Speller shortage

Once drawing as many as a dozen students, Lansing Knights of Columbus #3450 has hosted a spelling bee for decades, drawing local spellers in grades 5–8. However, the pandemic, combined with the closure of St. Ann School, has resulted in a lower turnout in recent years, said organizers. Last year’s bee drew three participants.

spelling bee
Chairman of the Lansing Knights spelling bee Pete Marx reads the rules to Maame Djondo, the only participant. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

“This spelling bee is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus statewide, and our council sponsors this event at our hall,” said Pete Marx, chairman of the event and Knights of Columbus member. “St. Ann used to send a lot of students here.”

“St. Ann was our home parish, so that hurt us a lot,” said Bob Layne, Knights of Columbus member and official “pronouncer” at Saturday’s event.

Layne was the one to pronounce Djondo’s sole word on Saturday, which he did after Marx started the bee with the official rules. If Djondo had spelled “cancel” incorrectly, the bee would have continued until she spelled a word correctly.

From left: Knights of Columbus members Mike Kabala, Pete Marx, and Bob Layne are pictured with the spelling bee champion Maame Djondo. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Seasoned speller Maame Djondo

The newly-minted spelling bee champ is a fifth-grader at Brookwood Middle School, and lives in Glenwood. Just weeks ago, she competed in a spelling bee at Brookwood and took first place. She’ll compete in the next level of competition in February.

Though Saturday wasn’t much competition, Djondo is quite good at spelling and has always received high marks at school for it. She remembers a spelling bee she participated in in third grade when she spelled “engulf” correctly. She thinks it’s the hardest word she’s ever spelled correctly in competition.

Maame Djondo is joined by her mom, Solace Djondo, and sister, Nana Djondo. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Djondo will return to Kasey’s Banquet Hall for the regional round of competition on March 16. Last year’s regional drew about 12 kids. The top performers move on to a state competition sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

“We’ve had some from our regional make it down to state, but they’ve never won state,” Marx said.

Lansing Knights of Columbus #3540 is located at 17800 Lorenz Avenue in Lansing.

Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.


    • Hi Tanya, this Knights of Columbus spelling bee has traditionally been for kids in grades 5–8, and I don’t believe they have another bee for younger students. However, given the decline in participation, perhaps they’d be open to widening their criteria, especially if there was interest. The Lansing Knights of Columbus can be reached on their Facebook page, which is linked in the story.

  1. What a shame that more kids were not encouraged to show up. I have always loved spelling and love hearing about the “Bees”. Congratulations to Djondo and I hope she continues to compete. Schools need to do more to promote these competitions.

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