PLAINS TWP. — Sometimes all it takes is a single letter.
That was the case for two young men Sunday, as the final two contestants spelled it out for a chance to gain entry into the Scripps National Spelling Bee later this spring.
The Times Leader Media Group and The Medicine Shoppe sponsored the 2018 Times Leader/Scripps Spelling Bee at the Woodlands Inn, welcoming 15 students between the ages of 10 and 14 from schools across the area.
Abhinav Palle, a 13-year-old from Abington Heights Middle School, won the regional bee when his last remaining opponent missed spelling a word correctly by one letter, and Palle followed by spelling “de facto” correctly. He advances to the national bee in Washington, D.C., in the last week in May.
It was the 34th year that the Times Leader has sponsored the regional bee, said reporter and spelling bee judge Mary Therese Biebel.
“Reading and spelling and a love of language is what we’re all about,” she said, adding that the paper wishes to encourage children to learn how to read and spell.
In all, the spellers went through 19 rounds until a winner was declared.
All students passed through the initial round, reciting words like “tragic” and “haversack.” The second round knocked out four contestants with words such as “threshold” and “contraband,” with all remaining spellers holding steady in the third and fourth rounds.
Two more spellers had missteps with words in the fifth round, and a particularly deceiving German word in round eight, “wagnerian” – pronounced vognerian – brought the group down to five.
By the 10th round, only three remained. While each would earn a trophy, only one speller would be able to grace the stage in Washington, D.C.
Jessie Miller, a 14-year-old Shavertown resident and student at Wyoming Seminary Lower School placed third, leaving the final two contestants.
Palle and 10-year-old Wilkes-Barre Academy student Aditya Panikkath took each other on letter-for-letter from round 11, mastering words such as “empanada” and “pistachio” with ease and causing the judges to move onto more difficult words until the fumble of a single letter in round 18.
Palle explained that he has been working on his spelling for years.
“I did it for two years in the school spelling bee, but I never won,” he said of past attempts. “This is my first year at regionals.”
Palle said he has been working on his spelling by reading more books and having his parents quiz him. He said he’ll continue working to perfect his spelling for the national contest, and wants to study more Latin roots so he can better understand and spell the words.
After the contest, Biebel explained that the Times Leader is proud to help shine a spotlight on children who excel in academics while also providing an opportunity to work on other educational and social skills, such as public speaking.