Arden Middle School student wins regional spelling bee, advancing to national competition

“Festinate. F-E-S-T-I-N-A-T-E. Festinate.”

Logan Swain held his breath as he waited to hear the verdict from the announcer.

“You’re on your way. Congratulations.”

A moment passed, people began to cheer, and Logan looked confused. Then, a moment of recognition – “What? I won?” – and Swain’s face broke out into a huge grin, the microphone catching his giggles of excitement.

Thirteen-year-old Swain, from Arden Middle School, won the 2019 California Central Valley Spelling Bee on Wednesday, qualifying him for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in the Washington, DC area.

He wasn’t expecting it, he said, and was in shock. He said he didn’t study and learned all his words from reading.

“I wasn’t planning to win,” Swain said. “I just wanted to come, have fun and I did not know this would happen… I don’t think I’ve ever been so shocked in my life. I’m like buzzing with excitement.”

As to whether he thinks he’ll go on to win the Scripps Bee, which last year had over 500 spellers, he was very confident – “No,” Swain said, laughing.

The 2019 Central Valley Bee, organized by the Sacramento Bee News In Education program, brought 51 students to Rocklin to compete for the top spot. The students were in grades 3 to 8 and came from six counties. All were all exceptional spellers, having qualified through oral spelling bees at their schools and a written test.

When the spelling bee broke for lunch after the third round, students were surprised by Dinger, the Rivercats mascot, and Slamson, the Kings mascot, who both came to hang out with the kids, take pictures and sign autographs. Both the Rivercats and Kings sponsored the event, along with the City of Rocklin and Shriners Hospital for Children.

After lunch, students in rounds four and five were eliminated by difficult words like “monticule”, “ensiform”, “abeyance”, “liquesce”, and “obloquy.” Most students misspelled words by a single letter.

By the sixth round, four students were left standing.

A new rule made the last student standing in the last round spell two words, instead of just one, to claim the championship title.

The Bee was rife with tension as the final round repeated itself three times, with the last speller unable to spell both of the final words. The stakes high, the students carefully asked for definitions and word origin, sentences and alternate pronunciations. Some wrote the words on the palm of their hands with a finger before slowly spelling them out, hoping not to hear the bell that signaled an incorrect spelling.

On the first final round, reigning champion Samhita Kumar was the last standing, having won in 2017 and 2018. She correctly spelled “piupiu” – the name of a piece of traditional Maori dress – but missed “Mapuche”, ending the word with an “i”.

In the second round, no one spelled their first word correctly, and all four went again.

In the third round, Kumar was back up, but missed the difficult word “ediacarin”.

In the final round, Swain correctly spelled “scintillation,” and moved on to spell his final two words. He spelled the challenging “iscariotic” with ease, barely pausing to hear the definition, and won with “festinate.”

Darla Swain, Logan’s mom, said she was excited but surprised by the win.

“Our goal was just to make it through the fourth round,” Swain said. “He reads a lot, he loves words. But we didn’t expect it at all.”

Logan, in his tie-dyed T-shirt and basketball shorts, posed for photos with Lauren Gustus, executive editor at The Sacramento Bee and McClatchy West. She presented Logan with a stuffed Scoopy (The Sacramento Bee mascot), subscriptions to Britannica Online and Merriam Webster Online, and two trophies – one for him, one for his school.

Logan will also have his trip to Washington paid for so he can compete in the Scripps National Bee from May 26 to 31.

The three runners-up were two-time regional champion Kumar, grade 8, of Winston Churchill Middle School in Carmichael; Luke Sax, grade 6, of CA Montessori Project in Fair Oaks; and Shireen Abdolmohammadi, grade 5, of Grant Elementary School in Redding.

Each runner-up will get a trophy and a $100 Amazon gift card. All participants in the spelling bee received gift bags from The Sacramento Bee.


Winner: Logan Swain, grade 8, Arden Middle School, Sacramento County

Runners-up, no particular order: Samhita Kumar, grade 8, Winston Churchill Middle School, Sacramento County Luke Sax, grade 6, California Montessori Project, Sacramento County Shireen Abdolmohammadi, grade 5, Grant Elementary School, Shasta County

Semifinalists (all made it to round 5): Minho Kim, Folsom Hills Elementary School, grade 3, Sacramento County Sarah Yee, Granite Oaks Middle School, Grade 7, Placer County Axel Sundin, Patwin Elementary School, grade 6, Yolo County Pratham Rangwala, Stone Lake Elementary, grade 6, Sacramento County Megan Lynch, St. Albans Country Day, grade grade 7, Placer County Anna Gugino, John Adams Academy - Lincoln, grade 6, Placer County

Hannah Darden covers breaking news and feature stories for The Bee and is a political science and journalism student at Sacramento State. A Sacramento native, she previously worked as editor in chief of her community college newspaper, the American River Current.