Achyut Ethiraj didn't rush his moments onstage Thursday night as the number of participants in the 66th annual Allen County Journal Gazette Spelling Bee dwindled.
As the words became more difficult, the Cedar Canyon Elementary School fourth grader confirmed the pronunciation with pronouncer Susan Alderman and continued asking questions the rules allowed, including language of origin.
His strategy worked.
Achyut aced “garnet,” “kurta,” “dawdle,” “calzone,” “deodorant” and “ecclesiology” in the first six rounds, which narrowed the contest from 44 participants to five. The seventh round toppled four spellers, but Achyut correctly spelled “tamari” and became champion with “beaumontage.”
Achyut will return to the Rhinehart Music Center stage for the March 7 regional spelling bee alongside winners from 14 other counties. That winner will represent The Journal Gazette at the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., in May.
The county bee was presented by STAR Financial Bank.
Camelia Tran, a Covington Elementary School fifth grader, won a four-way tie for runner-up.
“I'm out of breath, and I'm excited,” Camelia said afterward.
Although some spellers sailed through rounds on words including “colossal,” “haughty,” “attagirl,” “bristle,” “scoundrel” and “rabble-rouser,” others stumbled on “manifesto,” “graham,” “gelato,” “bagpipe” and “squawk.”
Alderman encouraged spellers to ask her to repeat words, to provide their definition or to use them in a sentence.
She also told them what not to say.
“Capitalization, don't worry about,” Alderman said before the contest began, adding the same was true for accent marks or hyphens.
After mispronouncing a word during the bee, Alderman indicated she was happy with her pronouncing role.
“I'm just glad I don't have to spell it,” she said.
At 10 years old, Achyut and Camelia were among the youngest participants, competing against some eighth graders.
That didn't help Camelia's nerves, she said, acknowledging the older students could have an advantage.
Achyut became more at ease after successfully completing the first round, he said.
His family, including father Sampath Ethiraj, watched from the audience.
“He's a hard worker,” Ethiraj said, noting his son sacrificed other activities to prepare for the bee.
Achyut learned more than how to spell correctly. He learned the concepts – such as meaning and origin – behind words, which helped him conquer unfamiliar terms, his father added.
“I'm really proud that he did it,” Ethiraj said.