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  • Renée C. Byer /

    Cheryl Dell, publisher and president of The Sacramento Bee, takes a selfie with two-time champ Aditya Mishra, a seventh-grader from Olympus School, after handing him his trophy for winning the California Central Valley Spelling Bee finals Wednesday at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Sacramento.

  • Renee C. Byer /

    With fingers crossed, fifth-grader Nick Petersen listens for his word during the spelling bee. Nick was one of the four finalists in Wednesday’s contest at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center.

  • Renée C. Byer /

    Sixth-grader Snehaa Ganesh Kumar smiles after spelling a word correctly while competing with Aditya Mishra during Wednesday’s spelling bee. She wound up placing second.

  • Renee C. Byer /

    Eighth-grader Jack Maglalang, a spelling bee winner in 2011 and 2012, reacts after misspelling a word at the Scottish Rite Center on Wednesday.

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California Central Valley Bee highlights talented young spellers, sends one to nationals

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014 - 11:31 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014 - 11:40 pm

In the hot light of the Scottish Rite Masonic Center stage Wednesday, 65 young spellers shuffled tightly laced sneakers under their chairs and fiddled with the numbered cardboard squares around their necks as they waited to prove their prowess at the largest California Central Valley Spelling Bee to date.

Now in its 31st year, the Central Valley bee brings together the winners of schoolwide spelling bees from six counties, pitting them against one another for a chance at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.

Roseville seventh-grader Aditya Mishra, who won the Central Valley bee last year, earned himself another first-place trophy and a second chance at national success Wednesday, but only after four hours of rigorous competition with his word-savvy peers. He won the bee on the word “distichous” which, according to a list provided by organizers, means “divided into two distinct segments.”

Aditya, whose sister Anvita won the Central Valley bee in 2010, said the family will now have three prize copies of the competition-standard Merriam Webster’s Third New International Dictionary at home.

“I felt more confident, since I won last year,” he said. “I didn’t really care if I won or lost, but I’m glad I won.”

Aditya said he is excited to return to nationals, where he missed the semifinals by two points last year. He will spend the next few months studying while he attends Olympus Junior High School in Roseville. Aditya enjoys math and science and is on the wrestling team.

There were seven rounds of concentrated spelling leading up to his five-round faceoff with sixth-grader Snehaa Ganesh Kumar, a Folsom Middle School student who first participated in the Central Valley bee as a third-grader and made the top 10 last year. While Snehaa has two more years to strive toward nationals, two-time local winner Jack Maglalang of Winston Churchill Middle School in Sacramento left the stage for the last time Wednesday after earning fourth place.

To spell at the Central Valley bee, students must win their schoolwide competitions and then qualify at the California Central Valley Written Spelling Bee, which was held on Jan. 18. The spelling bee is open to students in third through eighth grades.

Spelling Bee Director Molly Evangelisti said this was the most knowledgeable batch of students she had seen in a long time, causing the competition to run longer than usual. After the first two rounds of spelling, which included words like “gunnysack” and “diatribe,” all but 13 contestants were still standing, including three of the competition’s four fourth-graders.

“Overall the quality was better,” Evangelisti said. “I wondered if we’d ever get a winner.”

The pace picked up after lunch, with more than 30 contestants getting the dreaded exit bell in rounds three and four after misspelling words like “lambently”and “machination.” Still, the youngest contestants held fast, with a fourth-grader making it to round five and four fifth-graders in the top 10.

Among those four was Nick Petersen, a fifth-grader who represented John Adams Academy in Roseville and was one of 14 returning contestants Wednesday. Though the 11-year-old did not get past the first round in 2013, his two- to three-hour nightly study sessions with mother Suzanne Petersen paid off this time around, carrying him all the way to ninth place.

“I’ve always just been a natural speller,” he said. “And I hate losing and stuff. So in third grade I just pushed on and gave it my hardest ... and then it got really fascinating with all the words in the dictionary. And then my mom took me to the Barnes & Noble the first time, went to Starbucks and we just hit it up and it was fun, so ever since then I’ve just gotten into it.”

Pete Casserly, a fifth-grade teacher at John Adams, brought Petersen’s whole class along for the educational experience. Nonparticipating students from a few different schools took field trips Wednesday to cheer on their classmates while doodling or practice spelling in the back of the auditorium. The event was free and open to the public.

“It’s important that they see one of their classmates have success, and they know the amount of commitment it has taken for Nick to get this far,” Casserly said. “It’s good for kids to see the commitment that it takes to do this stuff.”

Announcer Bob Nathan, who has been pronouncing words at the Central Valley bee for nearly 25 years and was a speller himself before becoming a local radio personality, said the bee creates an important sense of camaraderie between students with similar interests.

“For the students, it creates a place where they can shine, where they can demonstrate the fruit of their labor,” Nathan said. “We were always called nerds and four eyes and bookworms and ridiculed because we studied. Because we paid attention and appreciated education. This gives those kids an opportunity to shine.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.

Read more articles by Sammy Caiola

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