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'Caodaism' makes Lee 13-year-old the spelling bee champ

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 24. 2018 11:38PM
Amanda Medina, holding her trophy, won the Union Leader Spelling Bee on Saturday. She now advances to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Nicole Goodhue Boyd/Union Leader Staff)

CONCORD - The 65th annual New Hampshire Union Leader Spelling Bee was a long and memorable one with Amanda Medina, 13, of Lee prevailing Saturday afternoon in the 25th round over 12-year-old Adithya Puninchittaya of Bedford.

The final two contestants stepped to the microphone 13 times at the Capitol Center for the Arts before Medina won by correctly spelling Caodaism, an Indo-Chinese religion consisting of elements from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and spiritualism.

"I was sure relieved," said the eighth-grader at Portsmouth Christian Academy in Dover after the 2½-hour contest. The young musician plays violin with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Asked about her early thoughts on a career, Medina said, "I think I'd like to do something in the medical field or have a job related to my violin."

Meanwhile, Adithya's mother, Lakshmi, consoled her son who in the 19th round had a chance to win the title outright when he correctly spelled hawok, a Native American form of money in California consisting of shell disks or buttons.

According to spelling bee rules, once your fellow competitor misses a word in a round and you get one right, you still must then answer correctly a second time in a final round to win.

Adithya stumbled over verglas, a French word that means a thin film of ice on rock.

He's a sixth-grader in the McKelvie Intermediate School in Bedford and this was only his second trip to the state championship. It was Medina's third.

Olivia Annunziata-Blaisdell, 10, plays Bananagrams with Greta Brunelle, 11, on the floor after being eliminated in the spelling bee preliminary competition. They both live in Portsmouth. (Nicole Goodhue Boyd photos/Union Leader Staff)

"He loves to spell so much; he had been practicing two hours a day for a while now," Adithya's mother said.

She and her husband are Indian and the family came to this country four years ago.

Adithya's dad was out of the country on business Saturday as a director for Fidelity Investments.

The day began with 178 spelling champs from schools across the state - students in fourth through eighth grade - taking a written test.

From this pool, 31 scored well enough to make it to the finals.

Sponsors said this group was unusually deep.

There were 10 still left after six rounds and that included fourth-grader Ishanvi Sharma, 9, from the MicroSociety Academy Charter School in Nashua.

Even after 10 rounds, there were still four in the mix including Marshall Carey-Matthews, 12, of Merrimack Valley Middle School in Penacook and Martin Cardine, 11, of St. Joseph Regional School in Keene.

Cardine fell out on cinematheque, a Greek to French to English word meaning a small movie theater specializing in avant-garde films.

And Carey-Matthews followed, tripping on siccative, a Latin adjective defined as causing to dry.

"Now we're at Round 11," pronouncer and past state champion Carolyn D'Aquila said until the audience corrected her that it was already Round 12.

She quipped, "I'm only off by one."

Eventually, the stress of the long competition and the difficulty of words chosen in later rounds took their toll on the top two finishers. They misfired on several mindbenders like stoichiometric, a Greek-origin word that's a branch of science dealing with the conservation of matter and mellisugent, the Latin adjective that means feeding by sucking up honey or nectar.

Through it all, Medina and Puninchittaya battled back and forth, the eventual winner pulling out endogamy, a marriage within a specific group as required by law.

Runner-up Adithya answered back by getting irides, a Greek-to-Latin word referring to the opaque diaphragms that are suspended in front of the lens of the eye.

Finally, Amanda broke through in Round 24 with tombolo, a sand or gravel bar that connects an island with the mainland while Adithya just missed on ecuelle, a two-handled bowl used for soup.

Medina's father, Ricardo, teaches civil engineering at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Her mother, Gabriela Vergara, admitted the tension was getting to her the longer this contest wore on.

"We're so happy to have it over with," she smiled.

Medina was given a cup, one-year memberships to the Encyclopedia Britannica and unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary and an oversized, $3,000 check from The Elks to cover the cost for her and a parent to travel to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 29 to 31.

"We're just so proud of her," her dad summed up.

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