It took 19 rounds and 144 words to do it, but Mountain Avenue Elementary student Zerxes Bhadha emerged as the Glendale Unified spelling champion Monday after besting his counterparts from the district’s 19 other elementary schools.
“He reads a lot so he is he is a natural speller,” his mother, Bucky Bhadha said as she congratulated him after the event.
The win was the result of a lot of practice and some steely nerves, the 12-year-old Zerxes said.
“I tried to do that so I didn’t feel nervous,” he said of his stoic demeanor throughout the competition.
Each of the 20 participants had already been crowned top speller at their respective elementary schools. The order of the spellers is determined by random lottery. According to spelling bee rules, contestants can ask the moderator to re-pronounce the word, provide a definition and use it in a sentence. The etymology, or origin, of a word can also be requested if the language of origin is of significance.
Once a speller begins naming letters, he or she can stop and start over, according to the rules. But the speller cannot change the letters or the letter sequence when retracing the word. If the contestant changes the order of the letters, he or she is eliminated. If a word is spelled incorrectly, the contestant is eliminated.
When the competition boils down to just two spellers, the rules change. If one of the two contestants misses a word, the second contestant must correctly spell the missed word, as well as a new word in order to be named winner.
The district championship drew dozens of supportive teachers and nervous parents to the Glendale Unified board room on Monday night. The spelling kicked off with “scripture,” and proceeded with words including “inquisition,” “modulate” and “stationary.”
Each speller displayed their own style – some spit out the letters without pause while others used their fingers to write them out on forearms. At least one speller could been seen making the sign of the cross before taking his turn at the microphone. In round six, Verdugo Woodlands student Nathan Heller, the sole fourth grade participant and eventually fifth place finisher, looked distraught after what he thought was the misspelling of “threshold,” only to break into a grin after being told he had gotten it right.
With four spellers left, the bee reached a stalemate with round after round of correctly spelled words. But the words “odyssey” and “propagate” eventually reduced the field to two.
Last year, then-Verdugo Woodlands sixth grade student Joshua Choi won the event – after weeks of before- and after-school study sessions – with the word “exclaim.” This year, Zerxes had to spell his way through “quaint” “competitor” and “abscess” before sealing the win with “sequence.”
“He was studying all the time,” Zerxes’s sister, Mithra Bhadha said. “He was pretty excited. He asked everyone to help him practice his words.”
The time invested preparing for the spelling bee will benefits participants long after they have left elementary school, district officials said.
“You are spending time with words,” school board President Joylene Wagner said while addressing the participants. “You are spending your own time and your parents are supporting that time your teachers are supporting that time. That is what makes a huge amount of difference. That is what is going to make a huge difference for you in all the years ahead.”