Can you spell “Hemerocallis” correctly? How about “breviary”?
Northern Scottsdale Desert Canyon Middle School sixth-grader Omkar Bharath, 11, can – and doing so landed him a spot as Arizona’s representative in the 92nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.
“I had not envisaged this outcome when I went in, even though I knew I had a chance. I just wanted to spell the best I could,” Omkar said – and, yes, he meant to use the word “envisaged.” He is a State Spelling Bee champion, after all.
After winning the Scottsdale Unified School District bee on Jan. 18 for his fourth consecutive year and out-spelling his competitors at the Region II Bee on Feb. 22, Omkar won on March 23 the state meet sponsored by the Arizona Educational Foundation.
Omkar called winning his first time competing in the state bee “right and surreal.”
Omkar won an all-expenses paid trip for two to Washington, $800 cash, a one-year subscription to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online, a one-year subscription to Britannica Online Premium and a dictionary.
While his goal is winning the national contest, he also is looking forward to meeting the rest of the competitors.
“I really want to savor the experience of being at the National Bee in that environment for a week and participating in all the activities that go with it, meet and make friends with spellers from so many different places,” Omkar said.
Last year’s winning word at the national meet was “koinonia,” which Texas 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani spelled correctly.
Each year, the Scripps National Spelling Bee publishes its list of 450 words to help students prepare for the school-level spelling bee.
Words are pulled from a curated list of first- through eighth-grade appropriate books. This year’s list includes books from authors like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl to Neil Patrick Harris, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
Omkar has participated in spelling bees since he was in kindergarten, so while he feels prepared, he plans to continue to read books and research unfamiliar words leading up to the National Bee.
“I think pushing beyond your comfort zone in reading is a great way to learn new words,” said Omkar, who added he has a “huge reading habit.”
“Reading fiction, non-fiction, magazines, history, signs on the road, comic books, music and art articles all help in acquiring new words in the context that tells you their meaning. This is better than studying lists, which is very hard for me. I prefer words in their natural contexts,” he said.
Omkar is understandably nervous about the National Spelling Bee, but he’s approaching this opportunity to spell in D.C. as a new, exciting experience.
“It is a form of excitement and it can keep me alert during a bee,” he said. “I understand this is a wonderful opportunity that is the result of my hard work and perseverance over the years.”
With a clear, acute mind, Omkar’s approach to spelling words correctly involves visualizing the word – and taking his time (while not exceeding the two-minute time limit, of course).
“I think your state of mind is as much or more important than your spelling ability at that point,” he said. “Think calmly, take a breath, take a minute, ask any questions you can even if you think it’s a word you know … Sometimes one can jump into an easy word and flub it in the excitement of getting an easy word.”
This was the Arizona Education Foundation’s 21st year sponsoring the State Spelling Bee.
“Over 120,000 Arizona students competed in spelling bees this year,” said foundation Executive Director Kim Graham.
Those who missed the State Spelling Bee can watch a broadcast on May 5 at a to-be-determined time on Arizona PBS.
Viewers can also watch the program with highlights from the event on the Arizona PBS website after the broadcast has aired.
“It’s a beautiful way to celebrate and showcase the talents and achievements of students from across the state, said AEF Director of Programs and Partnerships Dan Allen.
In addition to being an avid reader, Omkar loves playing soccer and laser tag, coding, traveling and puns.
“[I] can never pick one favorite, but I’ll tell you one that came to mind when you said travel: ‘I’d like to go to the Netherlands one day, wooden shoe?’” he said.
Stick that solid pun in your back pocket for later.
Omkar is also a big fan of Marvel movies; His favorite Avenger is Captain America.
“Maybe because he has a strong moral code and does what he needs to do no matter what,” he said. “He doesn’t feel that being kind is a weakness and is always willing to give people another chance. I could go on and on …”