For the first time in several years, Olathe has a new spelling bee champ.
And no, his last name isn’t Shivashankar.
The winner of the Olathe Public Schools Spelling Bee is Amrith Samuel, a seventh-grader from Mission Trail Middle School. When the 12-year-old confidently spelled the word, “bronchial,” the crowd erupted into applause. His parents beamed from the audience.
More than 40 spellers, from third to eighth grade, competed in the Olathe bee on Thursday morning at Frontier Trail Middle School.
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As the winner of the district bee, Amrith will be heading to the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington DC from May 22-27.
This was Amrith’s fourth time participating in the Olathe bee. Last year he tied for third place and in 2014, he won second. Both of those years, bubbly Olathe teenager Vanya Shivashankar was the winner.
Last year, she was the co-champion of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Amrith hopes to follow in her footsteps and make Olathe proud.
“I think he was the happiest person in the world when Vanya graduated from the bee,” his dad, Prem Samuel, said jokingly. “I’m pretty sure Amrith is going to sleep with his trophy.”
With a smile, Amrith assured The Star he would instead display the trophy in his room.
“I’m happy and excited to win,” he said. “I studied every day and I feel like this is a big opportunity for me.”
The victory was not an easy one, however.
During the last eight rounds, the competition was down to three contestants, as Amrith fired off spellings against two impressive girls, Emily Pine and Kruti Nataraj.
Emily, an eighth-grader at Oregon Trail Middle School, took home the second place trophy. Kruti, a seventh-grader at Indian Trails Middle School, was named third.
“I’ve been trying to win since third grade,” said Emily, with a smile, as she clutched her trophy off stage. “I did my best and I used my instinct a lot, so I’m very happy right now.”
Kruti, who breezed through words like, “gnathonic” and “maelstrom,” agreed that while she’s bummed she didn’t win first place, she has no regrets because she tried her hardest.
“It was kind of scary as the words got harder, but it was a lot of fun,” she said. “I hope I can go even farther next year.”
Her parents are proud of her enthusiasm and dedication.
“She’s worked very hard and this competition is a huge challenge, because you can’t possibly know the meaning of every single word out there,” said her father, Sampath.
Amrith’s parents agree that while the kids in the bee make spelling seem easy, it’s not.
“At this age, it’s difficult for kids to concentrate because they have distractions like sports or electronic media,” Samuel said. “And studying sometimes can be painful. There are a lot of good spellers in Olathe, as we saw today, and the competition is very hard.”
It’s not easy for the parents either, he added.
“Waiting for Amrith to spell on stage has been one of the most stressful moments of my life,” Samuel said. “It’s nerve-wracking. I have to close my eyes.”
Amrith, however, is not letting the pressure get to him. While he’s looking forward to testing out his spelling skills at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, he’s just taking life one day at a time right now.
“I like spelling, but I love playing tennis even more,” he said. “I like science and math. Spelling is just something that allows me to have a better vocabulary. I like doing it because I know it will help me later in life.”
Jennifer Bhargava: firstname.lastname@example.org