Having correctly spelled "fibula" to win the 36th annual Contra Costa County Spelling Bee, Nick Lambert put his to good use with a spirited victory dance.
Lambert, an eighth-grade student at Pleasant Hill Middle School, emerged victorious from a group of 109 elementary and middle school champions Saturday in a competition at the Tice Valley Community Gym in Walnut Creek.
"My heart was just pounding throughout the entire competition," he said. "I had to remember, this is just a game. I don't need to win. But I won."
Lambert won a trip for two to Washington, D.C., where he will represent Contra Costa County in the National Spelling Bee from May 27 to June 1. He also pocketed a dictionary, a $100 savings bond, a one-year subscription to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica Online and a trophy donated by the Contra Costa Times, which sponsored the event.
The second- and third-place finishers, Varun Jain and Shilpa Rao, will compete in the State Junior High Championships in San Rafael on May 12. Jain is a seventh grade student at the Dorris-Eaton School. Rao is an eighth-grader at Charlotte Wood Middle School.
The top two elementary school contestants, Pranav Anand of Coyote Creek Elementary School and Vincent Zaw Chen of Garin Elementary School, will compete at the State Elementary Championships in Stockton on April 21. Both are in the fifth grade.
Saturday's event began with a written competition. Students were read a word and asked to spell it on paper. They were eliminated after their fourth misspelling. It took more than two hours and words such as "schadenfreude," "ephemeral" and "urbiculture" to winnow the field to 10 finalists.
The top 10 engaged in an oral competition. In turn, they were asked to spell a word they chose in a blind draw. Four were knocked out in the first round, done in by the likes of "ufology," "nurturance," "aidant" and "ignominious." Four more fell in the second round, tripping over "reparations," "fictile," "neonatology" and "leechcraft."
That left Lambert and Jain.
Lambert nailed "solace," air-spelling the letters as he recited them. Jain faltered on "sabermetrics" (advanced analysis of baseball statistics), a word Lambert later admitted he would have had trouble spelling.
After a short conference by event organizers, Lambert drew his potential championship word: "Fibula," the thinner of the two main bones in the human lower leg. After being informed he had given the correct spelling, he launched into his celebratory dance.
"I practiced it for a long time," he said. "It's just a way to show that I'm proud."
Lambert recalled his first spelling bee, in the fourth grade, "in which I was perhaps the first one to get eliminated. But then, in fifth grade, I won. I did the same thing in sixth grade, and in seventh grade I came in third. This time I came in first at school and now. Wow."
Nick's parents, Tom and Denise Lambert, appeared more stressed out than their son.
"He did miss three during the written rounds, so he just made it into the oral round," Tom Lambert said. "Actually, the oral round went much smoother than I thought it was going to."
"I was trying to be calm," Denise Lambert said. "Now I'm kind of in shock."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053.
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