At times it was “overwhelming,” and the judges were “unanimous” in foregoing any “leniency,” but Paradise Canyon Elementary School student Tanmay Penanen rose to the challenge Monday, winning La Cañada Unified School District’s annual spelling bee.
The sixth-grader beat 15 other competitors, each fourth- through sixth-graders who’d advanced from earlier school-site spelling bees at PCY, Palm Crest and La Cañada Elementary schools and La Cañada Preparatory School.
Judges included La Cañada High School 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold as recorder, La Cañada Prep administrator Scott Albright as timekeeper and Spell Master LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal, who bulldozed through three levels of vocabulary and provided definitions and word uses upon request.
The initial rounds revealed participants’ prowess, but as words like “journal” and “hinge” gave way to trickier words like “bellwether,” “vestige” and “effusion,” the ranks of spellers slowly thinned until only two were left standing — Penanen and Paradise Canyon fourth-grader Demetrios Pitsos.
Emcee and Paradise Canyon Principal Carrie Hetzel explained the final round rules — if one contestant misspelled his word, the other would get a shot. If the second speller succeeded, he’d be given his own word to spell for the win. If he failed, both would receive a new word.
Family members watched in tense silence as Penanen and Pitsos ran the spelling gauntlet through toughies like “ceremonious,” “intravenous,” “beleaguer” and “delicatessen.”
When Pitsos misspelled “silhouette,” Penanen countered with the correct spelling. After another correct spelling of “unanimous,” Penanen was declared the winner, and the top two contestants claimed their trophies and congratulatory hugs from family members.
Grinning from ear to ear and still gripping his trophy, Penanen shared his simple strategy.
“My mom printed out a bunch of sheets of words, and I just studied,” he said, before commenting on the evening’s eclectic vocabulary. “Some of the words were just weird — I’d never learned how to spell them.”
Mom Shiopa joined husband Konstantin and 14-year-old daughter Irina in congratulating their victor, who will represent La Cañada Unified in the 15th annual Los Angeles County Spelling Bee on March 18 in Alhambra.
Are there more word lists in her son’s future?
“Oh, yes,” she said with a smile. “This time for reals.”