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Super spellers spend stressful, suspenseful Saturday

By Theresa Harrington
Saturday, March 27th, 2010 at 6:52 pm in Contra Costa County, Education, Theresa Harrington.


By Theresa Harrington

WALNUT CREEK — Two sixth-graders showed off their spelling prowess this afternoon, as they faced off for more than 17 minutes in the final round of the Contra Costa Spelling Bee.

For those who missed the action and wonder whether you’d be able to match the wits of winner Shilpa Rao and second-place finisher Celina Dioso, check out this rundown of their grueling go-rounds. To win, one of them had to spell two words correctly in a row.

Here’s how the competition unfolded:

Shilpa correctly spelled “rheological,” an adjective meaning “of or relating to the phenomena of flowing matter.”

To be honest, that would’ve stumped me.

Then, both girls misspelled “lecithin,” a food additive. (This appears a lot on product labels, I’ve noticed.)

Next, they each struck out on “xylophilous,” which means “growing or living in or on wood.” Do you think that includes people who live in wooden houses?

Celina also had trouble spelling “sapajou,” a long-tailed South American monkey. Shilpa got it right, then stumbled on “impetus,” which is a driving or impelling force. Celina also missed this word. Both spelled it with a “d” instead of a “t,” probably because it’s pronouced like “impidus.”

The pair also missed “ecesis,” which refers to the naturalization of a plant or animal in a new habitat.

Things heated up after that, with the girls spelling multiple words correctly, going back and forth with solid hits suggestive of a tense ping pong or tennis match.

Shilpa nailed “canape,” an appetizer. Celina aced “obelisk,” a monolithic pillar. Shilpa perfected “pinnacle,” the lofty top of a hill. Celina tipped the scale with “testudinal,” related to a tortoise. Shilpa countered with “crotalic,” relating to rattlesnakes. Celia punched back with “pugilant,” which is related to boxing.

This dizzying streak ended when both girls misspelled “unau,” a two-toed sloth. It figures a sloth would slow things down.

Celina was unable to recover. The word “quila” — meaning a grass from South America — brought her down.

Shilpa rose to the occasion, correctly spelling “quila” and then cementing her championship win with “iridescence,” a play of colors producing rainbow effects.

But no matter where they finished, everyone appeared to be happy after the competition. They all seemed to realize it was an honor to have made it so far.

The top 10 finishers received trophies for themselves and their schools.

They were:

1. Shilpa Rao, grade 6, Charlotte Wood Middle School in San Ramon

2. Celina Dioso, grade 6, St. Francis of Assisi School in Concord

3. Sejal Jain, grade 8, Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon

4. Zoe Tacderas, Holy Rosary School in Antioch

5. Liam O’Neill, grade 4, Monte Gardens Elementary in Concord

6. Aileen Converse, grade 5, Homebuilders home school

7. Allison Koontz, grade 8, William Bristow Middle School in Brentwood

8. Vishal Jain, grade 7, Dorris-Eaton School in Walnut Creek

9. Felice Asuncion Lugos, grade 5, Murwood Elementary in Walnut Creek

10. Marnie Lowe, grade 8, Pine Valley Middle School in Concord

Shilpa will fly to Washington DC to represent Contra Costa County at the National Spelling Bee, which is June 2-4.

Sejal and Zoe will participate in the State Junior High Championships on May 8 in San Rafael. Celina and Liam will advance to the State Elementary Championships on May 15 in Rohnert Park.

If you want more  information about the National Spelling Bee, visit


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