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County takes both slots for state contest

SUWANEE - Sonam Vashi calls it luck.

The Pinckneyville Middle School student didn't spend any time studying for the district spelling bee, but the 13-year-old spelled her way to victory Saturday, about a month after she placed first in Gwinnett County's spelling bee.

She and district runner-up Laila Lloyd of Creekland Middle School will compete in the state spelling bee March 23 in Atlanta, the final stop before the Scripps National Spelling Bee from May 27 to June 1 in Washington, D.C.

"A lot of it was luck," Sonam said. "I didn't know the last few words at the end."

After 31 contestants were narrowed to two in 10 rounds, Laila correctly spelled "efficacy." Sonam stumbled on "philosophize," substituting an "s" for the "z." Laila correctly spelled the word, but she then misspelled "palliate."

Sonam, speaking slowly, cinched the word and then the competition by spelling "cryology."

The eighth-grader won $100 and a trophy from the Georgia Association of Educators and, minutes later, $20 after her name was pulled as door prizes were given away. Laila won $50 and a trophy.

Sonam had a busy day planned Saturday. After the bee, she had to go to Buford for a piano audition in Buford, where her performance would be rated. Then she and her family had plans to attend a dinner party.

Laila, on the other hand, planned to use the afternoon to study for the state competition.

"I really want to study," she said. "I have a (vocabulary builder) book. ... I went through every word in that book, and I memorized the words."

Although Laila said she enjoys knowing what words mean and where they came from, her life isn't all about spelling. She said she enjoys acting, modeling and performing on her school's step team.

The 13-year-old has also been accepted to the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Gwinnett County Public Schools' first charter school.

Cindy Gaskins, who coordinated Gwinnett County's spelling bee, said it's common for a Gwinnett student to make it to the state bee, but less so for both slots to be filled with Gwinnettians.

The last student eliminated in the 10th round was also from Gwinnett, Walnut Grove Elementary School student Angela Mo.

Other participants from Gwinnett were Cory Bhowmik of Camp Creek Elementary, Hanfei Wang of Duluth Middle, Maria Amorosso of Duncan Creek Elementary, Andrew Plaskowsky of Lanier Middle, Tyler Nicholson of McConnell Middle, Lance McNair of Snellville Middle, Walker Argendeli of Summerour Middle and Naveed Khan of Sweetwater Middle.

A contestant from Barrow County, Stephen Jenkins of Auburn Elementary, made it to the seventh round.

Buford Middle student Jonathan Zamora also competed.

Students from Banks County, Commerce City, Elbert County, Franklin County, Gainesville City, Habersham County, Hall County, Hart County, Jackson County, Jefferson City, Madison County, Rabun County, Stephens County and Walton County and three home-schooled children were included in the district.

The number of students competing in the district bee depends on the number of full-time students enrolled in each system.

"All of the people here deserve to win," Sonam said.