While most middle schoolers were in bed, well after 11 p.m. Thursday two Loudoun County 13 year olds were battling under the stage lights of Stone Bridge High School for the coveted regional spelling bee championship.
Finally, after 32 rounds and eliminating 74 others, Rishubh Kaushal captured the 35th annual Loudoun Regional Spelling Bee championship title. The Seneca Ridge Middle School eighth-grader’s winning word was staffage, a French word describing an accessory item in a landscape painting.
He edged out Anoushka Upadhye, a seventh-grader from Stone Hill Middle School, after the two went head to head for 22 rounds.
For several rounds, both Rishubh and Anoushka spelled words incorrectly (words like tamandua and pignolias), and for several others they both correctly spelled their words (like meiji and topeng). Each time, with no champion named, the bee rolled into another round.
Only five times in more than an hour did one slip up when the other spelled correctly. Twice Anoushka made it to the championship round but misspelled the words tetrapteron (a species of evening primrose) and zymase (a mixture of enzymes obtained from yeast), only to reset the match. And each time Rishubh responded, making it to the championship round a total of three times. In his first two shots for the title, he misspelled calcicolous (a plant that thrives in soil rich in lime) and scansion (the action of scanning a line of verse to determine its rhythm).
When the clock approached midnight, the bee’s pronouncer, Smart’s Mill Middle School Principal Will Waldman, said, “It’s past your bedtime, but I’m sure you can do this. Are you ready?”
“I hope so,” Rishubh responded with a deep breath followed by a sigh.
After he spelled his winning word, only the judges, a few school administrators and members of his family and Anoushka’s family were in the audience, so the applause was one of the quietest in the bee’s history but one of the most well deserved.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Waldman said, taking a break at one point to text his wife to assure her that he was safe, but still manning the mic at the bee. “You both deserve a huge round of applause.”
Rishubh credited his win to a lot of studying and a bit of luck. “There were a lot of words that I wasn’t sure about,” he said. Even his winning word, he almost misspelled as stoffage. “So that was close.”
He plans to pick up his studying where he left off, to prepare for Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington, DC, where he will represent Loudoun County.