Suwanee fifth-grader county's top speller

LAWRENCEVILLE - Spelling "sauerbraten," "graupel" and "seguidilla" were no problem for this week's winner of the Gwinnett County spelling bee.

It was a far more common word that gave Suwanee Elementary School fifth-grader Asad Ladhani trouble.

"'Betwixt' wasn't in the packet," Asad said. "I just sounded it out in my mind."

And it worked.

Sporting a big grin after successively spelling "graupel" and "poinsettia" correctly to win the county bee, Asad said he planned to keep studying from a list of 300 words in preparation for February's district bee at Collins Hill High School. But not until after eating a big lunch and a big dinner.

Twelve Gwinnett students will compete at the district bee, including runner-up Naveed Khan, a seventh-grader at Summerour Middle School.

This will be Naveed's fourth time at the district bee, and he said he hopes to make it to the state competition this year. The top two finishers at the district level will advance to the state, and one state winner will go to the national bee.

"I actually read the study list this time," Naveed said. "This is my second-to-last chance."

Naveed correctly spelled words like "asphyxiate," "penitentiary," "alderman" and "quinine" before being eliminated on "graupel." As the runner up, he took home $75 in the Gwinnett Daily Post-sponsored bee. Asad was a $200 winner.

Called to stage eleventh, Naveed said he was nervous that as one of more than 70 students taking the written test, he had not passed the mark this year. But Tahira Khan, Naveed's mother, said she knew he was going to do great.

"I'm not nervous," she said. "He's so professional."

J.J. Stewart, a fourth-grader at Mason Elementary School, had reason to be nervous. He was one of three students tossed into a sudden-death written spell-off after tying for 12th place in the original written bee, used to narrow down the winners.

J.J., who got out on "zeitgeist," said he wanted to have a spelling bee party to celebrate his success. There, he said, he would watch "Akeelah and the Bee," as he did to prepare for the competition.

This was the first year that Corley Elementary School Assistant Principal Carey McDurmon coordinated the spelling bee, which featured new caller Leslie Sniff, a literacy coach at the school.

The change did not come without some hiccups. Sniff announced Asad as the winner before he spelled his second word, prompting shouts from the audience before he was asked to spell "poinsettia."

McDurmon said he definitely learned some things from running the bee, which he said helps expose students to good study habits and increase their vocabularies. And he had no doubts about how Gwinnett students would fare in the coming rounds.

"We're going to win that district bee, no doubt about it," McDurmon said.

In addition to Asad Ladhani and Naveen Khan, the following students won $25 and will advance to the district spelling bee at Collins Hill High School Feb. 23:

· Surya Narayanan, fifth grade, Chattahoochee Elementary, eliminated on "mercantilist"

· Kari Burden, eighth grade, Creekland Middle School, eliminated on "desiccant"

· Norris Davis III, fifth grade, Dacula Elementary School, eliminated on "ablution"

· May Quinn Wong, eighth grade, Duluth Middle School, eliminated on "ohmmeter"

· Rodrigo Soares, fifth grade, Duncan Creek Elementary School, eliminated on "dialectician"

· J.J. Stewart, fourth grade, Mason Elementary School, eliminated on "zeitgeist"

· Robert Marvin, eighth grade, Osborne Middle School, eliminated on "sommelier"

· Rhianna Hearne, eighth grade, Shiloh Middle School, eliminated on "deaeration"

· Andrew Min, eighth grade, Summerour Middle School, eliminated on "immiscible"

· Cory Bhowmik, sixth grade, Trickum Middle School, eliminated on "pauperize"