Under heavy spotlights, 29 edgy but smiling middle school students sat ready to compete for Nevada’s State Spelling Bee title and a chance to compete on a national stage.
The group became smaller as those eliminated scampered off into seats set aside for them, some shocked, others visibly upset.
At the end of Saturday’s three-hour-long bee at the Summerlin Library Theater in Las Vegas, only Amna Raza walked away with a huge grin on her face.
Just like she did last year, her first year as winner of the state spelling bee.
“I felt more nervous this year than I did last year,” Raza said. “I felt slightly more prepared, but I still had the pressure of winning. It was all through hard work and prayer that I won.”
The eighth-grade student from Omar Haikal Islamic Academy in Las Vegas fought through 32 exhausting rounds, including six champion rounds, to defeat 28 other competitors to win the State Spelling Bee. The competition was sponsored by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
New this year was the addition of two vocabulary rounds, where students had to choose the correct meaning of a word.
Raza won the bee with the word “paraphrasia,” which means a speech defect characterized by incoherence in arrangement of words. She will represent Nevada at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., on May 25-31.
Second runner-up was 12-year-old Eshaan Vakil, a sixth-grade student from Hyde Park Middle School, which also is in Las Vegas.
“I was really nervous. I really wanted to win,” Vakil said. “I searched the Internet to find different resources to help me study and I studied for five months. I had my eye on the prize.”
Vakil misspelled “literatim,” which means of the copying of a text letter by letter. He said the word is now carved in his mind and he plans to be back next year, this time more prepared.
Many students and their families stayed until the end to support their competitors until the end. Some students listened intently, hoping to brace themselves for next year’s competition.
Melinda Brown, Nevada State Spelling Bee coordinator, said the spelling bee was the longest it’s been since she could remember. The spelling bee pronouncer, Kendall Tenney, ran out of words and had to switch to using additional words that were not in the guide.
“I get more nervous doing this event than any other speaking engagements,” Tenney said. “I have to pronounce the words right and some words I’ve never even seen before. These kids are really talented.”
The students had to finish first in bees at their schools and again in county or regional bees to make Saturday’s finals.
Some students used strategies such as using their hand to write the word down before spelling it and pronouncing it to make sure they heard it right. Most fidgeted with their fingers in anticipation.
Raza, on the other hand, had a calm and cool demeanor. She admitted she did not come in with a plan and said she’s always been good at spelling.
Among the words the two finalists got right: “balalaika” (a Russian folk stringed musical instrument); “edelweiss” (a European mountain plant); “mukhtar” (the head of local government of a town or village); and Anschluss (political or economic union of one government or territory with another).
Raza’s mother and father, Nureen and Ali Raza, attributed their daughter’s success to her hard work, her teachers and Allah.
“We’re very proud of her,” Nureen said. “We’ve always believed in prayers. First we tell Amna to work hard and then leave the rest up to prayer.”
Raza said she looks forward to going to the nation’s capital where she hopes to win the national title.
“I’ve received a lot of strong support from my religious community,” Raza said. “Everyone has been really encouraging of me, which has made me confident. Now I can go prepare myself for Washington, D.C.”
Contact View reporter Sandy Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4686.