Each time she took the stage in Anniston Middle School’s auditorium, her tone was calm, her delivery smooth. But a steady voice from her slight frame cut through the silence without hesitation as she correctly spelled each word given her in the competition.
Last year Giri also won the county competition and she advanced to the state competition, where she came in fourth place. Now she’s setting her sights on the next state bee, which will be held March 10 at Oak Mountain High School. If she wins at the state level, she will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“I really, really, really wanted to win this year, so I could have an even better chance of winning state and going to nationals,” Giri said. “I’ve always wanted to go to nationals. I’ve been working toward that goal.”
Her two fiercest competitors, fourth-grade student Laney Smith of Faith Christian School and fifth-grade student Gabrielle Padilla of Sacred Heart Catholic School, fell in the 13th round of the competition, ultimately both coming in second in the bee.
Giri has spent an unrecorded number of hours practicing the words in “Merriam-Webster’s Spell” so that she would know not only the correct spelling of more than 1150 words but also their definitions and their origins.
“I do the list over and over again until it is imprinted in my brain and I can do it in my sleep,” Giri said.
She began rehearsing the words in the fifth grade, typically spending between two and three hours a week reviewing the dictionary, she said. She studies the words with the help of her parents, and on occasion, with help from a coach.
“You can make it no-limits,” she said in reference to remembering words. “You can go to the sky.”
When the competition began Wednesday morning, 34 students, with laminated ID numbers hanging from their necks, were seated in chairs on the stage. The only sounds that could be heard were the hum of traffic outside the building and the slight clicking of a photographer’s camera.
One by one, students approached the microphone in front of the caller’s podium. The microphone towered over some of the students, who were in grades five through eight, forcing them to stretch to speak into it.
Contenders correctly spelled words including “tutelage” and “caboose,” but missed “fluoride” and “posthumous.”
The field was thinned by about half by the close of the first round, in which students stumbled over words including “whimsical” and “leisure.” In the second round students hung in, carefully spelling out words such as “incidental” and “epilepsy.”
By the third round, about 15 students remained in the bee. In round four the field was narrowed to 11 students when two students missed the words “vehement” and “sultan.”
About eight students remained in the competition until round 10 when all but four students were eliminated.
Words including “lunatic,” “empirical” and “virtuoso” tested the remaining contenders in the last rounds.
Giri prevailed in the 14th round.
“I’ve been working hard toward my goal,” Giri said. “I just think its fun to memorize all those words.”
Giri and the second-place winners receive trophies donated and they will receive checks from Elks Lodge Chapter 189.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.