San Diego County bee spells fun for two La Jolla students

Jason Tran, 13, from The Preuss School was one of two La Jolla students who competed the San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee.
Jason Tran, 13, from The Preuss School was one of two La Jolla students who competed in last week’s virtual San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Entering the San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee for the first time, two La Jolla students found it to be a fun way to spend a Thursday.

Jake Leonhardt and Jason Tran, both 13, were among 60 who entered the 52nd annual county bee March 17. The event is organized by The San Diego Union-Tribune in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education and is sponsored by San Diego County Credit Union.

Entrants had 30 seconds to spell each word and were eliminated upon an incorrect spelling.

The contest was held virtually, with students asked to keep their hands folded in front of the camera to ward off suspicion of cheating.

Spelling words such as “regicide” and “praxis,” Jake Leonhardt, a seventh-grader at All Hallows Academy in La Jolla, was eliminated in the fourth round, in which 17 other entrants remained, by the word “julienne.”

Jason Tran, an eighth-grader at The Preuss School on the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla, bowed out in Round 3 with “adversaria” after previously spelling “regiment” and “sacrament” correctly.

Jake Leonhardt, 13, from La Jolla's All Hallows Academy competes in the March 17 San Diego Countywide Spelling Bee online.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The winner after more than six hours and 11 rounds of competition was Mihir Konkapaka, a sixth-grader at the Poway Unified School District’s virtual Connect Academy, after correctly spelling “sabreur.”

Mihir now advances on an all-expenses-paid trip to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the Washington, D.C., area this summer.

The national bee was founded in 1925 when nine newspapers collaborated to present it.

“It was pretty cool to participate in something like [the county bee], especially with a large amount of kids,” Jake said.

He said it was a good experience just to watch the other spellers.

The county bee is open to students in grades six through eight who are attending a public or private school in San Diego County and have won their school’s bee.

Jake said he had never entered something like this before but “decided it was a fun thing to do and I wanted to do it.”

“I’ve always been a good speller,” he added.

Jason said he wanted to enter “for an experience.” He was nervous throughout, having never entered a contest this large before, but still had fun, he said.

Jake said the virtual component was “pretty well set up. … I don’t know that virtual posed a challenge vs. in person.”

“I would do it again,” he said.

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Kristen Taketa contributed to this report.