The word, of Hawaiian origin, used to denote preeminence, certainly applies to Meghana Giri’s position in the annual spelling competition. That’s because Giri, an eighth-grade Donoho School student, has won the bee for three consecutive years.
“It’s unusual to have multiple-year winners,” said Becky Fearon, the spelling bee’s director.
Giri wasn’t the only competitor to turn in a repeat performance Wednesday. Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School sixth-grader Gabrielle Padilla took second place in the competition for the second year in a row.
“I’ll be looking to see how well she does next year,” Debbie Nothdurft, a long-time county bee coordinator, said of Padilla’s performance.
Padilla this year shared the second place with Briar Poytress of White Plains Middle School. The judges decided that the girls tied for second because they each spelled the same number of words correctly, said Fearon.
Poytress and Padilla were tripped up in the 10th round of competition when Poytress misspelled “Gestapo” and Padilla misspelled “Amarillo.” Giri spelled just one more correct word than the second place winners.
The room was almost silent as Giri, who will not be eligible to compete next year, took to the microphone on the Anniston Middle School auditorium stage for the last time Wednesday. Just one competitor, Padilla, sat behind her on an otherwise empty stage as the pronouncer paused for Giri’s reply.
Poytress, had already left the stage to join the light crowd spread out across the auditorium, mostly composed of students’ families and spelling bee participants already disqualified.
Giri wore bright purple pants, tall faux-fur-lined boots and an ivory sweater as she called out words letters.
Then Giri secured the top spot in the hour-long competition when she sounded “K-A-H-U-N-A” into the microphone.
“I feel more comfortable with these words and the whole spelling bee,” Giri said after the competition, comparing her performance Wednesday to those in previous years.
“She is excellent. She speaks calmly,” Nothdurft said. “She asks for the appropriate information that she’s legally able to request.”
Giri will advance to state competition next month, and if successful there, will have the chance to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. this spring.
Giri, known among bee organizers for her habitual spelling practices, has several weeks to prepare for the competition, but she just may already be prepared to take on competitors at the state level.
“I’ve been practicing hard,” Giri said.
The Calhoun County Spelling Bee is conducted each year under the direction of coordinators from across the area and includes students in the fourth through eighth grades. Students who win spelling bees from their respective schools advance to the county competition, which includes students from each school in the area.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.