Education

2nd effort secures win in Observer Spelling Bee

Akshra Paimagam, 12, a Randolph Middle sixth-grader, hoists her trophy Monday after winning the 2015 Charlotte Observer Spelling Bee. She will compete in the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Paimagam also won a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and the Samuel Louis Sugarman award certificate for a 2015 United States Mint Proof Set.
Akshra Paimagam, 12, a Randolph Middle sixth-grader, hoists her trophy Monday after winning the 2015 Charlotte Observer Spelling Bee. She will compete in the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Paimagam also won a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and the Samuel Louis Sugarman award certificate for a 2015 United States Mint Proof Set. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

“Akshra Paimagam.”

Say the words again?

“Akshra Paimagam.”

Define them?

“She’s a sixth-grader at Randolph Middle School in Charlotte.”

Use them in a sentence?

“Akshra Paimagam was crowned the winner of the 61st annual Charlotte Observer Spelling Bee, held Monday at ImaginOn’s McColl Family Theatre.”

The 12-year-old with the tricky name kept nerves at bay during the regional qualifier for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, nailing words such as duenna, amphibious, facetious, Pickelhaube and shrieval before winning the event by spouting off six letters: h-i-a-t-u-s.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Paimagam said, standing on the stage after her win, still wearing the winter jacket she had worn for the duration of the 2 1/2-hour contest. “I didn’t take off my coat in all the other spelling bees I had this year. ... I didn’t cut my hair, either.”

Her superstitions paid off in the form of an all-expenses-paid trip, courtesy of the Observer, to Washington, D.C., for the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in late May; she also won a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and the Samuel Louis Sugarman award certificate for a 2015 United States Mint Proof Set.

In all, 24 fifth- through eighth-graders from around the region competed Monday.

Paimagam outlasted runner-up Eva Vega, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Carmel Christian School in Matthews (eliminated after misspelling “stymieing”) and third-place finisher Charlotte Pollack, 13, an eighth-grader from Springfield Middle School in Fort Mill (eliminated after misspelling “extrapolation”).

“I was so nervous I was shaking,” said Paimagam, who a year ago was knocked out of the same competition after misspelling “roughy” (she thought it was “ie” instead of “y”). “And I kept on telling myself, ‘It’s OK if I lose. ... I have two more years.’”

Her father, Premnarasu Paimagam, said that he was so nervous he could barely watch. And her mother, Devika Ethiraj, literally could not watch – she stayed at home, he said, because she was too anxious.

Randolph Middle School Principal Brian Bambauer and IB coordinator Brenda Duff, who were there to support Akshra, also copped to frayed nerves.

“We both did the finger-crossing every time she came up,” Bambauer said. “I held my breath,” Duff added.

But afterward, they beamed. And when quizzed, they correctly spelled their champion student’s name under pressure.

“A-k-s-h-r-a,” Bambauer recited.

“P-a-i-m-a-g-a-m,” Duff said, confidently.

“Good job!” Akshra Paimagam said, laughing.

“That’s because I’ve had to write it so many times for her doing so well,” Duff said, “which is a nice problem.”

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

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