Osphresis: a love of odors or smells – and Samhita Kumar’s return ticket to the Washington, D.C., area.
Kumar spelled the Greek word correctly to repeat as the California Central Valley Spelling Bee champion Wednesday in Sacramento.
Kumar will return to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee beginning May 29 in National Harbor, Md., after besting seventh-grader Rayhan Kabir from Toby Johnson Middle School in Elk Grove in the final round.
“I was just thinking: ‘I hope, I hope I’m right.’ Nothing else was in my head,” Kumar said. “Last year, I feel like the words weren’t as hard. I felt like I knew more of them. But this one was really hard.”
A seventh-grader from Winston Churchill Middle School in Carmichael, Kumar finished 18th in the country in last year’s national competition.
Sixty-two students from Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, Placer, Plumas and Shasta counties tried to one-up each other at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in East Sacramento.
Competitors were enrolled in grades 3 through 8, meaning some students tilted their chins toward the ceiling to speak into the microphone while others slouched over. The first round started off relatively slowly with words such as "bagel," "dejected" and "chocolate," as well as a few curveballs, including "sitzmark" and "Melba."
Only two contestants were eliminated in the first two rounds combined.
After a lunch break, veteran pronouncer and former KFBK radio host Bob Nathan upped the ante.
About half of the remaining contestants stumbled over words such as "medlar" (an ancient fruit), "contemporaneous" (existing in the same time period) and "pavé" (a setting of stones with no visible metal) in the third round.
The fourth round saw spellers stumped by words such as "difflugia" (a type of eukaryote), "cribellate" (a class of spiders) and "teras" (a malformed fetus), until there were only four remaining.
“I think this field was as deep as we’ve ever had with good spellers and people who reason it out,” Nathan said. “The true spellers and the ones that generally win go through their methodical lists of questions to ask … they’re looking for anything that they can (use to) tie what they know into what they don’t know and make a reasoned choice of letters, and they’re brilliant.”
Kumar received a one-year subscription to Britannica Online Premium, The Merriam Webster Unabridged Online and a trophy for Churchill Middle School.
Second place-finisher Kabir received a GoPro Hero5, third-place contestant Joel Fonseca got an HP Sprocket printer and fourth-place finisher Shreeya Sarurkar a Fitbit Flex.
All finalists received The Sacramento Bee bobbleheads, and all participants received T-shirts.
Contestants were judged by Margaret Bryan, chief administrator of Shriners Children’s Hospitals of Northern California; James Coe, the 1951 Central Valley spelling champion; and Marcos Bretón, a columnist for The Sacramento Bee.
Event sponsors included The Sacramento Bee’s News In Education program, Sacramento Kings, Sacramento River Cats, Shriners Hospitals for Children and Sierra Health Foundation.
If Kumar can beat the field in Maryland, she would be not only the second Central Valley champion to do so but the second from Churchill Middle School.
Rageshree Ramachandran, now the director of medical education at UC San Francisco, won the title in 1988 before enrolling at Stanford University three years later at age 16.
Editor’s note: This story has updated to correct the spelling of Rayhan Kabir’s last name.