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Co-champs spell their way to top in district bee

Updated: 
January 20, 2014 - 10:40pm

An exciting wordie war occurred Saturday at the Hawaii Island District Spelling Bee, where Christianne Abella of Konawaena Middle School and Hope Kudo of Kealakehe Intermediate School matched each other word after word for 54 rounds.

With poise and confidence, the eighth-graders exhausted the competition’s list of words, resulting in the judges declaring them co-champions. Before sharing the victory, Abella spelled correctly “vogue” while Hope’s winning word was “howitzer.”

Both superior spellers will compete in the 2014 aio Hawaii State Spelling Bee, which will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. March 22 from PBS Hawaii. Besides spelling words correctly, they’ll be also be tested on their vocabulary knowledge, said Susan Eichor, the state competition coordinator.

This is the first time a district spelling bee has generated co-champions in the four years that aio Foundation has sponsored the state competition and “it’s so cool,” Eichor said.

The foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that strives “to provide programs, which build health, education and welfare amongst Hawaii’s children, and to provide inspiration for adults and children to become responsible for themselves.” Spelling bees bring language, words and people together. The students themselves are more than just great spellers. They’re oftentimes diligent in their studies, have other interesting talents or passions, and have super supportive families, friends or teachers, Eichor said.

Spelling, at this level, is more than recitation. It’s understanding how language is built; it’s also the heart and soul of culture, she said.

Twenty students, ranging from fourth to eighth grade, participated in the Hawaii Island District Spelling Bee, held Saturday at Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s Gates Performing Arts Center. The students represented 11 schools, said Julie Camarillo, the district bee coordinator and HPA eighth-grade English teacher.

Regardless of where they placed, Camarillo hoped the spellers took away an appreciation of hard work, a love of language, and more confidence. She thinks such academic competitions are important because they value the art of spelling, as well as showcase the students’ brain power, composure and knowledge in a fun way.

When a stalemate was called and the victors announced Saturday, 13-year-old Hope said she was “blown away.” She thought it was “awesome” winning, as well as sharing the victory. She looks forward to competing against more than a dozen top spellers for the state title. She also plans to get a coach to help her prepare.

This was Hope’s second time competing in a district spelling bee, and unlike last year, she practiced more. Hope said she consistently spent three hours a day reviewing the study list of words and having friends quiz her. With the more difficult words, she put them on Post-it notes and stuck them on her bedroom door. Each time she passed by, Hope studied them.

Her mother, Ruth Kudo, said the duel between Hope and Abella was “nerve-racking.” She felt like she was “hyperventilating a little with every round.” When the rounds ran out and the co-champions were named, her heart swelled with pride.

Ruth said her daughter studied very hard for the competition and put in a lot of effort, “including sacrificing a lot of weekends.” She described Hope as being “extremely self-motivated and 100 percent committed with everything she does,” including taiko drumming, running 5K races and playing tennis. Hope’s performances with her taiko group were probably why she felt so comfortable on stage, Ruth added.

What Ruth likes most about spelling bees is how it gives students like her daughter “a place to shine.”

The old adage, “Third time’s a charm,” proved true for 13-year-old Abella. She became a co-champion after competing in her third district spelling bee Saturday.

When the outcome was announced, she was “sort of surprised” and “very happy.” She only began studying for the bee 40 days ago.

With each word on the study list, Abella would learned the pronunciation, definition and origin. She said words can be tricky because they’re oftentimes spelled in ways that totally betray the way they sound. One of the secrets of her success, Abella added, was her study partner: her mother, Lynn Borbe.

Abella said her mother’s pronunciations weren’t always perfect, but made her laugh and kept the quizzes fun.

Abella wasn’t nervous Saturday, mostly because she had competed in bees before. She aced words with ease because she “knew them and had seen them before.” Abella described the last rounds as “relaxing” because she knew the second place winner typically goes to the state competition, too.

Borbe thinks one reason why her daughter is such a great natural speller is because she’s also voracious reader. Ever since Abella was a little girl, she had a special knack for spelling and an inquisitive mind. The ever-curious word buff had always done well on spelling tests and class contests, Borbe said.

While Abella likes spelling and thinks it’s an important skill, it’s not her favorite subject. Abella said she enjoys her computer and art classes the most.

For Abella, Saturday’s competition showed how if you keep doing your best and keep trying, you get might surprise yourself. She hopes the surprises continue in March.