Carmel Valley student crowned countywide spelling champion

Kevin Luo, a Pacific Trails Middle School student and the winner of the 49th annual San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee.

When Pacific Trails Middle School 8th-grader Kevin Luo correctly spelled “gradine” to win the 49th annual San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee, most people in the audience had no idea what the word meant. As it turns out, though, Luo will soon be spelling his heart out before people seated on one. A “gradine” is a riser, a noun meaning one of a series of low steps or seats raised above one another.

Luo, 13, will now go on to represent San Diego County at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md., in May. He’ll be able to get guidance on what to expect from last year’s Countywide Spelling Bee champion, Yash Hande, who also attended Pacific Trails Middle School.

Round one started off with 93 spellers and relatively easy words such as “bagel,” “dejected,” and “loiter.” But it quickly became more difficult for the competitors, with more than half spelling out in the first and second rounds.

The third round introduced words that were much more difficult, such as “kestrel,” a type of Old World falcon; “potsherd,” a piece of broken earthen pot; and “theomachy,” which is a battle or strife among the gods.

There were two other spellers in the final round with Luo. Bennett Wade, an 7th-grader at Classical Academy, and Felipe Contreras, a 7th-grader at Pacific Beach Middle, are alternates should Luo be unable to compete.

San Diego County has a history of making a strong showing at the national level. In 2012, the local winner, Francis Parker School student Snigdha Nandipati, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and in 2005, Anurag Kashyap, a student from Poway, won the national competition.

San Diego County Board of Education President Guadalupe González, who made opening remarks at the event, called it “a great reminder that spelling is important, even in a world where texting and tweeting is so popular.”

“The Spelling Bee is a time-honored academic competition that I’m glad is still practiced and applauded today,” said Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools.

The 49th annual San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee was presented by San Diego County Credit Union in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education, 10News, San Diego Hall of Champions, and Southwest Airlines.

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