Portland's Kabir Muthu crowned spelling champ
It began with bagel. That's B-A-G-E-L.
Kabir Rathore Muthu — tasked with laying out the letters for the first word of the first round of the spelling competition — asked for the definition.
More than three hours later, and after a confident recitation of the butterfly species known as H-E-S-P-E-R-I-D, Muthu was crowned champion of Oregon's Regional Spelling Bee, presented by the Pamplin Media Group and Comcast.
"I was surprised that everybody kind of made mistakes. I felt lucky that I got words that I knew," the seventh grader said following the event on Saturday, March 17 at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland.
"There were a lot of tough bonus words, and in the end, I got one that I could spell first," he continued.
"I'm happy for him. He worked steadily," added proud pa Prabu Muthu, while also crediting mom Anjali Rathore.
Muthu, 13, bested his classmates at Portland's Access Academy to compete in the statewide bee that included 48 participants in grades four through eight, from public, private, alternative and home school groups in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties — including Boones Ferry Primary student Andrew McDougal.
As Oregon's newest living dictionary, Muthu has won an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where he'll face about 250 other heavyweights at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 29.
The victory came after a 20-minute duel with second-place finisher Namrata Venkatesan, a seventh grader at Stoller Middle School in Beaverton. The two spellers sparred over vocabulary that included cirrhosis, susurrus, kibitzer, ekphrasis, nociceptive and oligotrophic during the final showdown.
Both students were on the cusp of elimination multiple times. That's because after one contender stumbles during a bee, the presumptive winner must successfully complete a one-word, one-person round — otherwise the other player is back in.
Venkatesan blamed nerves for her fatal misspelling of rochefort, a type of blue cheese named for a region in France.
"I really like the way different languages sound," said Venkatesan, who spent an hour or two a night (and four hours on weekends) preparing for the contest.
Tai Tovey, a Lake Grove Elementary School fifth grader, placed third. Every student who appeared at the event had already won a preliminary round.
"I took a word and I pictured it in my head, then I repeated the word," said River Grove Elementary fifth grader Justin Rim, describing his memorization strategy. "Sometimes I write on my hands."
Now in its 15th year, the Regional Spelling Bee is a yearly academic journey that helps kids develop a love of language and learn lifelong lessons about correct English usage.
Newspapers have been involved in the spelling tradition since at least 1925, when The Louisville Courier-Journal hosted the first Scripps Spelling Bee. There were just nine contestants that year, though this year's national test will be televised live on ESPN and the final rounds will likely appear on some local stations.
"We are so proud to be in our 15th year with the Regional Spelling Bee," said J. Brian Monihan, vice president of the Pamplin Media Group. "It is so rewarding to watch these students succeed and have a love for learning."
"It is an honor for us each year to be the organizer of this spelling bee," said company President Mark Garber. "The Pamplin Media Group's mission is to build strong communities through great local journalism, and this fits that to a T."
Other sponsors included Flying Pie Pizzeria, the Hollywood Theatre and Comcast.