With the exception of last year, Sukesh Kamesh has qualified for the Sunflower Spelling Bee every year since the third grade.
When he didn’t make it past the Kingman County competition last year, the seventh-grader made it a personal goal to get back to the state contest this year — and to win it.
He did exactly that at Saturday’s contest in Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. After a grueling 27-round match that lasted more than five hours, Kamesh successfully spelled “carboniferous” to clinch the championship.
“I was like, I’m going to win today and I’m going to take my county to nationals,” Kamesh said after being presented with a commemorative trophy in the form of a bee.
He will represent the state in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington D.C. this spring. Kamesh placed third in the state competition in 2014.
“It’s something I practice a lot,” he said of spelling. “If I see a new word in a book, I always look over it and write it down so I can remember it.”
The contest was hosted by the Kansas Press Association, sponsored by Sunflower Electric and ITC. A total of 95 students participated, representing 63 counties.
Ellis County was represented by two Hays Middle School students, seventh-grader Mackenzie Hagerman and eighth-grader Carson Brooksher, who lasted until the end of the sixth round.
The second round of the contest was a vocabulary round, in which the moderator gave students a word and two possible definitions, asking them to choose the correct definition. Many students — and their parents — said that was a new experience.
“The words weren’t the hard part. The vocabulary, it’s like it’s designed to just get people out,” Brooksher said after he finished in the competition. “It was brutal.”
The competition was strong, with four students becoming stuck in a four-way deadlock that lasted approximately 10 rounds before someone missed a word. The words became increasingly difficult and harder to pronounce.
Many of the students — including Kamesh and runner-up Joy Lee from Crawford County — wrote the words on their hand with a finger as they prepared to spell out loud. Words in the final rounds included “maraschino,” “dictamina,” “trillado,” and “cumborous.”
One of the youngest spellers at the event was Natalie Head, a fourth-grader from Bel Aire in Sedgwick County. She held her own in the contest, making it into the top 20 students and spelling words including “eulogy” and “frankenstein” before missing “bureaucracy” in round seven.
She nodded vigorously when asked if she enjoys reading, but said she had been busy studying spelling words instead in recent weeks.
“He made me (study),” she said, pointing to her father. “I would rather read.”