Winning spelling competitions in Gwinnett County is becoming old hat for Hull Middle School seventh-grader Abhiram Kapaganty.
The 13-year-old made his dominance of the county spelling bee circuit a four-peat on Saturday as he won his fourth consecutive Gwinnett County Spelling Bee, besting spellers from across Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Despite coming into the competition as a three-time defending county champion — who has made a couple of trips to the Scripps National Spelling Bee — he said he didn’t feel too much pressure as he was asked to show his spelling prowess.
“You kind of get used to the stage effect (after three previous championships),” he said.
Top spellers from all of Gwinnett’s elementary and middle schools competed in the spelling bee Saturday. The students first competed in a written round and then the top 15 students competed in an oral round that gradually whittled the competitors down to a single winner, 13 other regional qualifiers and an alternate for the regional competition.
The top spellers from the county’s spelling bee advance to the Region 3 Spelling Bee, which will be held Feb. 23 at the Barrow County Schools Professional Development Center in Winder.
In the championship round, Kapaganty faced eventual runner-up Sylvia Wright from Creekland Middle School, but his fourth county spelling bee title didn’t come without some last minute theatrics.
As he was spelling “zeppelin” in the championship round, the microphone died as he was midway through the word.
It didn’t faze him, however, as he stayed calm on Central Gwinnett High School’s stage and continued spelling the word as if nothing happened. The judges were seated near him so they could hear him spell the word and confirmed he got it right.
After a quick mic change, all eyes were on Kapaganty as he was given one last word to spell: “doyenne.”
He rattled off the letters and was proclaimed the county’s top speller. Again.
Kapaganty said he studies for the spelling bee by looking to the internet for guidance. In the leadup to his school’s bee, he studied for at least an hour each day. Once he advanced to the county-level, he stepped up his game.
He now spends at least two hours each day, sometimes three hours a day, studying his spelling in preparation for the county bee, and he plans to keep that schedule up as he prepares for the regional competition.
“The words I don’t know, I go online to look them up,” he said.
All of the studying is to help him reach a national goal: to make it to the final group of spellers in the nationally televised Scripps National Spelling Bee. He’s competed in the national bee each of the last two years, but he was eliminated in the third round each of the last two times.
Kapaganty has to last at least one more round to reach his goal, he said.
“I want to get to the top 50, where it’s televised,” he said. “There’s three (early) rounds and then there’s the fourth round where it’s televised with the top 50 people.”