Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Carrollwood student repeats as regional spelling bee champion

ST. PETERSBURG — Tommy Foster had been here before.

It was the same room. The same microphone. The same challenger.

Foster, a bespectacled 12-year-old who lives in Carrollwood, walked to the front of the same stage.

A young woman a few feet away addressed the hushed crowd.

"This is the championship round," she said. "If he gets this word correct, he will be our champion."

• • •

Here, in the chapel building at Admiral Farragut Academy, an almost sacred ritual was taking place.

Every year, dozens of elementary and middle schoolers from around Tampa Bay gather to compete in the regional spelling bee.

The winner earns a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete for a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is broadcast on television.

On Saturday, a crowd of about 100 watched as the local competition of 26 students was whittled to 10, then five, and then — after 25 rounds — just two.

• • •

Tommy and Nikitha Chandran, an 11-year-old who lives in Brandon, met on the same stage last year.

Their rounds go fast. Neither hesitates when they spell, except to ask for clues like where a word originated from or what its definition is.

Even when they had knocked out all of the other competitors, the two still went head to head for another 20 minutes.

"Grotesque." "Quartz." "Scurrilous." "Ballyhooed." "Execration." "Plasmalemma." "Syllogism."

And so it went, until Nikitha missed "filiality." She spelled it with a "P-H" at the beginning.

The word reader leaned forward and looked at Tommy.

"Your word is: kookaburra."

Tommy leaned into the microphone:

"Kookaburra. K-O-O-K-A-B-U-R-R-A. Kookaburra."

For a few seconds, there was silence.

"Correct," the judge said.

The crowd cheered.

For the second year in a row, Tommy had taken the top prize, which also includes a few gift cards, a dictionary, a $100 savings bond, an online encyclopedia subscription and a trophy.

As people moved in to take his picture, Tommy grinned. His opponent stood next to him, also smiling.

"All competition is friendly," he said. "It's us against the words, not really each other."

• • •

Tommy's mom, Chris, teaches him at home. His dad Jim is a systems engineer.

The seventh-grader said he practices about 30 minutes a day on spelling. To prepare for the national competition in June, he said he'll probably do a little more.

Last year he made it through a few rounds in the national competition. This year he wants to do well enough to get to the televised portion.

He's not worried about nerves. Something about being on stage takes care of that.

"It just starts to fade away once you start spelling," he said.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at or (727) 893-8643.

Carrollwood student repeats as regional spelling bee champion 03/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 5, 2011 9:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Mayor: Men stabbed after anti-Muslin rant died as 'heroes' (w/video)


    PORTLAND, Ore. — Police said Saturday they'll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of an Oregon man accused of fatally stabbing two men who tried to intervene when the suspect yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim on a Portland light-rail train.

    A sign of thanks rests against a traffic light pole at a memorial outside the transit center on Saturday in Portland, Ore. [Associated Press]
  2. Numerous lapses add up to frustrating Rays loss to Twins

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — While the Rays made some good defensive plays, threw a couple of big pitches when they needed to and got a few, and just a few, key hits, there were some obvious things they did wrong that led to them losing Saturday's game to the Twins 5-3:

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter says the Twins’ tiebreaking homer came on a pitch that was “close to where I wanted it.”
  3. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Wing Jonathan Drouin could be the only piece that Tampa Bay has to acquire a badly needed top-tier defenseman.
  4. Ryan Hunter-Reay running strong as he seeks a second Indianapolis 500 title

    Auto racing

    Ryan Hunter-Reay isn't a big jewelry fan.

    Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won Indy in 2014, is a contender for a second title in today’s 101st running. He qualified 10th, had the third-fastest practice lap and his team is looking strong.
  5. As Trump's overseas trip ends, crisis grows at home (w/video)


    President Donald Trump headed home Saturday to confront a growing political and legal threat, as his top aides tried to contain the fallout from reports that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is a focus of investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the president's campaign and transition teams.

    President Donald Trump waves as he exits Marine One on Saturday at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy. After a nine-day trip overseas, the president is returning to Washington.