She’ll Bee Back

Carmichael, CA (MPG)  |  Story and Photo by Jacqueline Fox
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Samhita Kumar, a sixth-grader at Winston Churchill Middle School, holds the trophy for taking the 2017 California Central Valley Spelling Bee regional title. She recently tied for 18th place in the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Carmichael’s Spelling Champ Ties for 18th Place in National Competition

Samhita Kumar returned to finish up her sixth year at Winston Churchill Middle School June 5, not the winner of the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee, but a top finalist, nonetheless, and that’s good enough for her. For now.

Kumar was one of 40 out of a total of 291 spellers to advance to the final rounds in the 90th Scripps Spelling Bee held in Washington, D.C. May 28 to June 4. She skillfully aced the words “cygneous” (curved like the neck of a swan) and “Polypheme” (a Greek cyclops from Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey), but was eliminated during the sixth round, stumped slightly by an eight-letter word for something you might want to toss over a plate of pasta: “duxelles,” a mixture of mushrooms, onions and finely chopped herbs.

“I didn’t know the word, but I used my grammar and word origin skills and I thought because it sounded French, I used c’s instead of the ‘x,’” Kumar said.

Kumar, who is 11, ultimately tied for 18th place in the finals. Naturally, she would have loved to advance further in the competition, but it was always about the journey, not the winning. Besides, as Kumar puts it, she’s got two more years to try again. And there is no question she plans to.

“I had an amazing experience and I was disappointed at first, but I really didn’t expect to do as well as I did,” said Kumar. “I still have two more chances though, and I am not going to stop just because of one word. I want to go back again next year and see if I can do better next time.”

Kumar synched the 2015 California Central Valley Spelling Bee championship title in March after correctly spelling the Maori word “tuatara,” which is a spiny New Zealand lizard. After 13, grueling rounds against her finalist opponent, Kumar took the win. It was her third attempt at the regional title. She competed against 60 finalists from across the Sacramento region.

Kumar said she would waste little time commencing her spelling practice sessions, which she gets help with from her parents. Maximum age requirements for the Scripps Bee allow her to compete until she graduates from the 8th grade.

“I’m sure I’ll jump right back in because I want to do everything I can to make sure I get a chance to compete in D.C. again next year.”

The Scripps National competition is a 90-year old tradition launched in 1925 as a literacy push. Some 11 million spellers from across the nation competed to make it to Washington this year. Ultimately, it was a twelve-year-old, Ananya Vinay, a sixth-grader at Fugman Elementary School in Fresno, who took the crown for 2017 Bee champion, after correctly spelling the word “marocain,” a type of dress or garment made of a ribbed crepe fabric.