W.Va. speller confident about bee

WASHINGTON — Varun Kukkillaya has been to the nation’s capital before, though things are a little different this time around.

The 13-year-old John Adams Middle School seventh grader is in Washington this week, not on vacation, but as a representative for West Virginia in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Varun told the Daily Mail last week he wants to make his state proud by spelling as far as he can, regardless of whether he takes the trophy home or not.

While he could only describe the first day of competition as “tough,” Varun feels confident going into Wednesday’s preliminary spelling round.

“I think I have a chance of going on,” he said.

Varun said he is relieved he is finished with the testing round, which includes a rigorous vocabulary section he has said worried him.

“I’m sort of relieved the preliminary test is over,” he said. “It was pretty bad.”

Varun’s father, Radha, said he heard some of the things other spellers were saying about the preliminaries and that most came away with the same impression.

While Varun thinks Scripps’ recent addition of vocabulary testing takes away from the purpose of what a spelling bee is, he sees the merit behind it.

“Some kids were just memorizing words without knowing what they even meant.”

Varun has done his best to understand the meaning of each word he spells, going as far as studying the vocabulary sections in SAT preparatory books.

He said studying those books only helped on a few words. The rest were simple, but uncommon enough to give him a hard time.

The vocabulary section wasn’t the only thing that was difficult. Varun said he misspelled at least one word he had never heard before.

The word was “apres,” a French prefix that means “coming after.”

“They were all pretty difficult,” Varun said. “I just hope they pick the words I got right.”

While Varun and the other spellers were given 24 words to spell and 24 words to define, only 12 of each will be counted toward their scores.

Not knowing which words count has Varun on edge, but he said he feels good about getting to spell in the next round.

“I feel good about tomorrow — tomorrow morning at least,” Varun said Tuesday. “I think I’ll be able to ace that section.”

Since arriving Sunday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, the location of the bee, Varun hasn’t had much time to do anything but study.

While he said there isn’t much more he can study in terms of words for tomorrow, Varun is already preparing for the next batch of tests should his preliminary score be enough to send him to the semifinals.

In addition to preliminaries, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has two other components: semifinals and championship finals.

All 281 spellers will participate in additional preliminary rounds Wednesday, but only a maximum of 50 can advance to semifinals.

The semifinal round will be Thursday, with a maximum of 12 spellers advancing to the championship round.

All Wednesday and Thursday events will air on ESPN networks. A complete schedule can be found at www.spellingbee.com.

Varun’s appearance in the national bee is sponsored by the Gazette-Mail, the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association and Alpha Natural Resources.

In addition to an all-expense-paid trip to the nation’s capital, he won a $2,500 college savings account from state treasurer John Perdue’s SMART529 program, courtesy of The Hartford.

For live, up-to-date coverage of the bee and Varun’s progress, follow @wvschools on Twitter.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886.

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