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Eleven-year-old Mihir Konkapaka was named the San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee champion after a nearly seven-hour competition Thursday.

Mihir, a sixth-grader at Poway Unified School District‘s virtual school Connect Academy, captured the win by successfully spelling the word “sabreur,” which means “one that fences with a light dueling sword.”

Jedd Li, a student at Francis Parker School, came in second.

Both students were among 60 to compete in the 52nd annual county bee. The event is organized by The San Diego Union-Tribune in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education and is sponsored by the San Diego County Credit Union.


The bee is open to students in grades six through eight attending public or private schools in the county. Schools hold their own contests to determine winners to advance to the county competition.

In an age when people rely on phones and computers to communicate for them, spelling bee competitions are meant to promote literacy and grow students’ vocabularies. The competitions are also meant to build confidence, poise, public speaking and other skills in students, said Walter Ritter, this year’s spelling bee pronouncer and executive director of Write Out Loud.

“These skills will help you in future endeavors, both in school and throughout your life,” Ritter said at the start of the event.

Like last year, the competition was held online via Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students Zoomed in from bedrooms or rooms at their respective schools. All contestants were asked to keep their hands folded and visible in front of their cameras.

Participation in the local bee has been slowly recovering after taking a hit because of the pandemic.

In 2020, the local and national spelling bees were canceled because of COVID. Last year, when many schools were still closed to in-person learning, only 37 students participated in the bee.

Before the pandemic, 90 to 100 students on average competed in the county bee, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.

This year’s competition started out with words like “software” and “season” and by the last round progressed to words like “algedonic” and “mucosa.”

Words for the local bee are taken from the Scripps National Bee’s dictionary, according to the county education office. Officials recommend that bee contestants practice using the official Scripps study guide, which contains 4,000 words.

Mihir, who lives in Sabre Springs, said this year was the first time he has competed in a spelling bee. He said he tried it because he likes reading a lot of books and his school offered the opportunity to compete, Mihir’s father Phanikumar Konkapaka said.

Mihir said he studied at least an hour a day using Word Club, a mobile app that the Scripps National Spelling Bee offers as a study tool for contestants.

Mihir also credited his teachers for helping him study by quizzing him and going over the roots of words.

As the winner, Mihir gets an all-expenses-paid trip to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the Washington, D.C. area this summer. As the runner-up, Jedd will serve as an alternate should Mihir be unable to compete.

“It’s crazy, I didn’t think it’d get to this point where I’d be going to the nationals,” said Mihir, after he was announced the winner. “I feel really excited.”

The Scripps National Spelling Bee was founded in 1925 when nine newspapers collaborated to host the event.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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