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New San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee champion wins on the word 'sabreur'

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M.G. Perez
Mihir Konkapaka, 11, studies words as he prepares for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in June. He is a sixth-grade student in the Poway Unified School District, March 18, 2022.

San Diego has its new Countywide Spelling Bee champion. He is Mihir Konkapaka, 11, a sixth-grade student learning virtually through the Poway Unified School District’s Connect Academy.

The 52nd Annual San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee was held online again this year to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sixty students from grades six to eight, attending public and independent schools throughout San Diego County, participated.

The young competitors had a list of more than 4,000 words to study.

New San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee champion wins on the word 'sabreur'

Mihir’s strategy included some memorization of words and the use of his previous knowledge. “For the words I haven’t heard before it’s good to know the origin and the root,” Mihir told KPBS News, “also prefixes, suffixes and the spelling patterns of different languages.”

The strategy paid off in the final round with the word "sabreur" — a person who fences with a light dueling sword. “It’s like fencing with a lightsaber, a sword thing. So, I already found out that part,” Mihir said, “and, based on the 4,000 words that I practiced, French has the weirdest spellings of all them. I knew it was going to be 'e-u-r' and not as simple as 'i-r' or 'e-r.'”

He won his own school's spelling bee back in January. His proud parents have supported him all the way.

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His father, Phanikumar Konkapaka said: “It’s pretty exciting and it was tense. Some words that he got right were pretty complicated. I didn't know most of them.”

“I hope he follows his interests and finds success and is also happy,” his mother, Soumya Chennapragada, said.

2022 Spelling Bee Winner
Courtesy of Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego County 2022 Spelling Bee winner Mihir Konkapaka holds his trophy at his home in Poway, Calif., March 17, 2022.

“The spelling bee is a time-honored academic competition that any student can participate in to connect with school and develop skills that will help them in the future,” said Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools. “Students learn to set goals, dedicate time to studying, and gain experience in public speaking, all of which are useful in both college and career.”

Jedd Li, from Francis Parker School, is an alternate should Mihir be unable to compete in the national bee.