Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

And the Winner Is ... Upper St. Clair Middle-Schooler Captures Regional Spelling Bee

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

And the Winner Is ... Upper St. Clair Middle-Schooler Captures Regional Spelling Bee

Article excerpt

After a finals competition of 20 rounds, 240 words and nearly 31/ 2 hours, it came down to this:

Unadulterated.

Suneel Banerjee spelled it without hesitation Saturday, winning the Western Pennsylvania Spelling Bee and the right to represent the region in a national competition in Washington, D.C., in May.

The 13-year-old's feat was stupendous -- to borrow a word from round eight -- considering he studied for the bee only one night.

"I wasn't really that confident," Suneel, an eighth-grader at Fort Couch Middle School in Upper St. Clair School District, said. "I felt as though I should have prepared more."

The 64th annual bee, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and hosted by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, drew about 110 elementary- and middle-grade students from schools as far away as Cambria County.

One out-of-town contestant said her family came into town Friday and stayed overnight. Another said she rose at 4 a.m. to make it to Lawrenceville for the competition. After a series of morning semifinals, a field of 34 took the stage for the afternoon finals.

The finals competition was unusually strong, said head judge Dave Toma, who twice instructed the announcer, WQED's Rick Sebak, to move to more difficult sections of the official word list.

"I didn't want it to last six hours," said Mr. Toma, who eventually had contestants spell words taken from a dictionary.

Last year's winner chose not to participate this year, so it was anyone's to event to win. Last year's runner-up, Marcus Huetter, a student at St. Patrick School in Canonsburg, incorrectly spelled "utilizable" in round 10.

By the beginning of the 12th round, only Suneel and Helena McDonald, 12, a seven-grader at Dorseyville Middle School in Fox Chapel Area School District, remained. Having lived in Rome for four years, she said, this was her first opportunity to take part. …

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