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Vilonia boy youngest to win Faulkner County Spelling Bee

By Tammy Keith

This article was published February 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

Jake Mashburn, 9, a third-grader at Vilonia Elementary School, won the Faulkner County Spelling Bee, held Feb. 15 in Conway. He is the youngest student to win the event, according to David Larson of Conway, longtime pronouncer for the county bee. Vilonia is the first American school Jake has attended. His father is in the Air Force, and the family has been stationed overseas.

It’s no joke — a third-grader won the Faulkner County Spelling Bee.

Jake Mashburn, 9, a student at Vilonia Elementary School, won the Feb. 15 competition.

His winning word was “comedienne,” a female comedian.

“I am pretty sure that he is the youngest to win,” said longtime spelling-bee pronouncer David Larson of Conway.

Larson said that in his 30 years of working the state bee, he remembers a second-grader participating, but the child didn’t win. There is no minimum age for a child to participate, but eighth grade is the cutoff, Larson said.

“I’m sure no third-grader has won,” Larson said. “I’m impressed; he’s got to be something else.”

The contest, held in the James H. Clark Auditorium at Conway High School, featured 45 Faulkner County students in grades three through eight.

Jake said he won the Vilonia Elementary School spelling bee on the word “disarray” to qualify for the county event.

He said he studied the Scripps National Spelling Bee list before the county bee, and that’s how he knew the word comedienne.

The trophy he received was “pretty cool,” he said.

Jake, the son of Audrey and Mark Mashburn, was born in Italy, and his dad is in the Air Force. Jake’s mother is a stay-at-home mom.

Jake, whose birthday is Dec. 9, has two older sisters, Jordan, 15, and Kelsey, 12.

“When I was at the spelling bee, when it was over, I called them and told them that I won, and they didn’t believe me,” he said.

He said his mother cried.

Audrey said it was a nerve-wracking experience to watch.

“I wish there was a video of it because every time it was his turn, I closed my eyes, held onto my seat,” she said, laughing. “I went through emotions.”

Audrey, a native of Malta, said Mark grew up in Alabama and is in the Air Force. The family has been in Arkansas for four years, and Mark is stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base, she said.

“We’ve been stationed overseas,” she said. “Vilonia is my kids’ first American school.”

Audrey said all of her children have excelled in different endeavors.

She said Jake has always been a “pretty good reader.”

“Since he was younger, I could tell — I would joke — I’d tell him, ‘You’ll be my spelling-bee champion one day.’”

Audrey said she is “most definitely” proud of Jake.

“I don’t tell them I’m proud often. It’s not the way I was raised. I’m not going to tell them I’m proud for every sneeze,” she said. “I couldn’t stop smiling.”

She also thought it was a funny coincidence that Jake got the only Italian word in the spelling bee.

“Lingua franca,” Jake said, spelling it.

What does it mean? “I do not know,” he said, but it didn’t matter.

It’s a bridge language used to make communication possible between people who speak different languages.

The rules of the spelling bee include this statement: “Speller must not eschew normal school activities to study.”

Jake is active in sports, too. He plays on a Vilonia city basketball team and plays baseball in the spring.

“At recess, I like to play basketball and football,” he said.

He said when he grows up, he wants to be a major-league baseball player, and the Yankees are his favorite team.

Second place in the county bee was Matthew Benert, an eighth-grader at Vilonia Junior High School. Jake said he thought that was “cool,” too, that they were both Vilonia students.

Jake will represent the county in the Arkansas State Spelling Bee on March 1 in Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas.

Asked if he wants to continue to compete in spelling bees, a confident Jake said, yes, but, “if I win the one in state and go to Washington and win that, I won’t be able to do it again.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 437-0370 or


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