Staff Photo: John Bohn Sumedh Garimella, 12, a 6th grade student at Hull Middle School, smiles after winning the Gwinnett County spelling bee held Saturday, at Central Gwinnett High School. Garimella won by spelling the word mononucleosis. Ryan Bhowmik of Trickum Middle School was the runner up.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- If he seems nervous, he's not.
When 12-year-old Sumedh Garimella takes the stage -- thick-framed glasses resting comfortably halfway down his nose, body aimed almost directly at the moderator rather than toward the crowd -- he does so confidently. The sixth grader from Hull Middle School stares wide-eyed and downward when he spells aloud, not at the ground but at an empty seat somewhere in the first few rows of the auditorium.
His hands fidget and he asks a lot of questions (definition, origin, repeat the word, use it in a sentence), a big grin, a fist pump and perhaps a little victory hop after a particularly tough linguistic conquest.
Antsy and enthusiastic may be appropriate terms to describe the newest Gwinnett County Spelling Bee champion, but nervous?
"I just feel good up on stage," Garimella said after he outlasted 11 other finalists Saturday morning in Central Gwinnett High School's theater. "There's no stage fright."
The day's competition began bright and early, with contestants from 92 Gwinnett middle and elementary schools completing the written portion of the bee. Those scores narrowed the field down to 12 youngsters for the oral competition.
Over the course of eight rounds, they were pared down one by one -- in later rounds on words like "benison" and "virulent," and earlier for the poor soul saddled with "chickabiddy" in Round 1 -- before Garimella and eventual runner-up Ryan Bhowmik, an eighth-grader from Trickum Middle, were the only two left standing.
Bhowmik missed the next word given to him: adjudicate, spelling it "adjucate."
"I was a little nervous and spelled it too quickly and missed out on a syllable," he explained afterward.
Garimella spelled that correctly before finishing the feat with the proper breakdown of "mononucleosis," and a series of underhanded fist pumps.
"I'm just happy," Garimella said, calling himself an underdog because of his age. "It's surprising. I was shocked, but I knew the word, I actually knew the word. I was really proud."
All 12 finalists will now advance to the District 3 Spelling Bee, held Feb. 25 at North Gwinnett High School. Garimella will be trying to get back to the Georgia state bee, where he took third place last year.
In the meantime, he'll study like always, using his Nintendo DS gaming system and other "more digital" methods of training. There won't be any of the "dilly dallying" and hanging out with friends Garimella said he did in the weeks leading up to Saturday's contest.
He'll take it seriously, but have fun (and confidence) while doing so.
"There's no fear factor," father Prasad Garimella said, wife Madhuri nearby. "But we compensate for him."