After mistake with rules, regional spelling bee runner-up also headed to national bee

After an apparent error in rule implementation in Wednesday’s California Central Valley Spelling Bee, organized by the Sacramento Bee News In Education program, an additional speller will be sent by The Bee to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Initially named one of three runners-up, eighth-grader Samhita Kumar of Winston Churchill Middle School will be sent to the national bee along with original champion Logan Swain of Arden Middle School, also in eighth grade.

Kumar’s family members and history teacher, Hillary Hartwell, informed The Bee in emails that a new rule was implemented incorrectly, erroneously requiring Kumar to spell an extra word correctly after she had rightfully won the competition.

The new rule requires the last speller standing to spell an additional word in what is deemed the “championship round.”

Kumar was the only speller in the seventh round to correctly spell a word (“coterie”) and followed it up by successfully spelling “piupiu,” but the competition continued with another word. As her family and teacher said via email following the event, Kumar should have been named champion because she was the only speller standing in the seventh round.

After “piupiu,” Samhita was given another word – “Mapuche” – which she misspelled, leading to several more overtime rounds, in which Swain prevailed.

Swain was eventually declared champion after spelling “iscariotic,” “scintillation” and, finally, “festinate” (the rules indicate he should only have had to spell the first two words to win).

The Bee determined that Kumar should have won in the seventh round upon spelling “piupiu,” and she will be sent along with Logan to the National Spelling Bee in May.

Another section of the spelling bee’s rulebook confirms this as the correct remedy: “If you erred and the competition has concluded, contact the spelling bee coordinator for the next level of spelling bee for authorization to send both your declared champion and the speller (or spellers) affected by the error to the next level competition.”

Kumar won the Central Valley Spelling Bee in 2017 and 2018.

Wednesday’s regional spelling bee, held in Rocklin, had 51 participants in grades 3 through 8.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.