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7th grader Mihir Konkapaka earns back-to-back county spelling bee titles

Seventh grader Mihir Konkapaka Thursday won back-to-back titles at the 53rd annual San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee.

The Mesa Verde Middle School student in Poway Unified School District will go on to represent San Diego County at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

"I'm excited because the words were really intense and there was no way I could prepare for that," Konkapaka said.


When accepting the trophy, he thanked his school librarian and teacher for helping him in the run-up to the bee. The winning word was "exsufflation," a word from Latin meaning "forcible breathing or blowing out (as in clearing the respiratory tract)."

Konkapaka battled it out through eight rounds with his toughest competitor from 2022, Jedd Li, an eighth grader at Francis Parker School. For the second year in a row, Li will serve as an alternate should Konkapaka be unable to compete in the national bee.

The Countywide Spelling Bee was held in person for the first time since 2019 and featured 76 students from grades six to eight attending public and independent schools throughout San Diego County.

"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 college, career and life."

A high degree of difficulty in the first round winnowed the field down to 30 by the second round and just 10 by round three.


Students representing the county have won the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice in recent years — in 2012 with Francis Parker School student Snigdha Nandipati and in 2005 when Anurag Kashyap, a student from Poway, won it all.

The spelling bee pronouncer this year was Walter Ritter, executive director of Write Out Loud, an organization that "seeks to inspire, challenge and entertain by reading literature aloud to audiences of all ages."

Corrected: March 9, 2023 at 5:31 PM PST
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mihir Konkapaka.
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