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Two Gwinnett students headed for state spelling bee

SUWANEE -- Neptunium is No. 93 on the periodic table, a radioactive metal that's most commonly a by-product of creating the better-known element plutonium. To a nuclear physicist, it means a lot.

To Kelsey Dabrowski, it just means victory.

Dabrowski -- a soft-spoken eighth-grader from Lilburn's Berkmar Middle School -- clinched her win in District 3 Spelling Bee with the word Saturday, finishing a two-hour competition that saw her come out on top of 27 other spellers. She and runner-up Lexine Feng -- a tiny fourth-grade home schooler from Peachtree Corners -- will now go on to the Georgia state bee next month in Atlanta.

"I think it's more of an honor for my school than me," Dabrowksi said after the competition in North Gwinnett High School's theater. "I feel like they were all wanting me to get there."

Spellers in the district bee came from Banks, Barrow, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Jackson, Madison, Rabun and Stephens counties, as well as Buford, Gainesville and Jefferson city schools, home schools and one private school.

Gwinnett had by far the largest contingency in the contest, with 12 spellers from the GCPS system, one from Buford, one from Duluth Montessori School and Feng.

The local impact was obvious -- after Round 6, just nine spellers were left. Seven were from Gwinnett. Dabrowski said the familiarity with her opponents put her at ease.

"I was less nervous this time, having other people I know there," she said. "Or at least ones I've seen once before (at the county bee two weeks ago)."

Round 7, however, wasn't kind to the county.

Four locals dropped out, including a tough break for Sumedh Garimella, the recent county bee champion from Hull Middle. Garimella's word was "idiopathic," and although he originally pronounced it like most people do (with a long "o"), the by-the-book pronunciation sounds like this: idi-UH-pathic.

Judges were forced to correct him, and he spelled the word accordingly (but not correctly), with an "a" rather than an "o." A protest by his father was fruitless.

By the end of Round 8, only Dabrowski and Feng remained. Feng, one of the day's youngest competitors, misused an "i" in "pyromaniac," setting the stage for Dabrowski's stab at "neptunium."

"It was nervous," Feng said afterward. "I thank God for helping me. And my mom and dad. They helped me memorize the words."

Dabrowski and Feng will join winners and runners-up from eight other districts and the Georgia Independent School Association in the state bee, to be held March 16 in at Georgia State University. After Saturday, there are only two things left to do.

Said Feng: "Study more."

Said Dabrowski: "Study harder."