Randolph Middle School student Akshra Paimagam’s study regime is exhaustive. She’s been poring over spelling lists almost around-the-clock since arriving in Maryland on Sunday.
Her hard work was validated Wednesday. The Charlotte native was among the 49 contestants left standing at the Scripps National Spelling Bee as the first day of competition closed. During two oral spelling rounds Wednesday, 234 contestants were eliminated.
Akshra, 12, passed the day’s first round by correctly spelling “camphor” – a white, gummy substance derived from a number of trees and plants and used as a sweetener, embalming fluid, plasticizer and anesthetic. She advanced again after giving the correct spelling of “nephelognosy,” which is the scientific observation of clouds.
Akshra won The Charlotte Observer spelling bee in February to make it to Maryland.
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“After the regional spelling bee, I kind of collected as many words from the dictionary and from the words I see around me. … I tried to collect as many words as I could,” she said.
Her father, Prem Sriramulu, was beaming after his daughter was announced as a finalist.
“It’s just simply awesome,” Sriramulu said. “It’s a fantastic achievement.”
Two other Charlotte-area competitors, Kayleigh Guffey of First Wesleyan Christian School in Gastonia and Allison Brower of Pine Lake Preparatory in Mooresville, were eliminated Wednesday after giving incorrect answers during the second oral spelling round. Rexen Venevongsoth, of Kings Mountain Middle School, sailed through the oral spelling rounds but did not score enough points on a preliminary written test to progress to Thursday.
The 283 original spellers started with a relatively easy oral round Wednesday morning. By noon, only four contestants had been cut. The words became longer and trickier during the afternoon, and the elimination bell sounded continuously as speller after speller walked down from the stage, some handling the disappointment better than others.
The semifinals kick off Thursday morning at 10 a.m. on ESPN2. The finals are scheduled for Thursday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN, when Scripps will crown a new national champion.
Contestants grappled Wednesday with hundreds of long and complex words, including those of Japanese, Hawaiian, Malay, Afrikaans, Quechua, Arabic and Yiddish origin.
Among the complicated and sometimes inscrutable words that had spellers scratching their heads were “Reykjavik” (the capital of Iceland), “aniseikonia,” (a condition of the eye affecting the perceived size of images), and “gesamtkunstwerk,” (a work of art that incorporates different art forms).
On many occasions, spellers expressed consternation – and no shortage of good humor – with the exotic words they were given. After being told that his word, “kente,” (a type of cloth) passed into English from the Twi language, Ethan Stinson, a Virginia seventh-grader, had some questions.
“Am I allowed to ask what continent Twi is on?” Ethan asked, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
Though the anticipation is high and nerves are frayed, Akshra says she is elated to have made it this far.
“I’m really happy. This is my first time (at the national bee),” she said.