Spelling Champ Honored

Kevin Chabla, a regional Scripps Spelling Bee runner-up, with Eric Casale, the Springs School principal Judy D’Mello

Kevin Chabla, a 13-year-old eighth grader at the Springs School, was a runner-up at a Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee at Hofstra University on Sunday. It was the first time he competed in the tournament.

At the school board meeting on Monday evening, Kevin, who attended with his parents, was honored for his achievement. Christine Cleary, the school’s assistant principal, told the school board and community members that Springs School was “extremely proud and fortunate to have a student like Kevin.”

While in seventh grade, Kevin had approached Ms. Cleary with a proposal to begin a spelling bee tradition at the school with the goal of competing in regional and national contests.

“Sure,” Ms. Cleary told Kevin that day, and  “I told Kevin to do the research and go for it,” she said.

Instead, Kevin returned a few weeks later with a thick binder detailing his plan for getting to the Hofstra competition this year, on Feb. 12. It took over 12 months of intense preparation. Kevin said he had devoted most of his time at lunch and recess — and hundreds of hours after school — to taking quizzes with the help of his family. He created lists of words and their origins, then broke them down into categories, and he filed over 1,000 words according to their usage. He studied words rooted in Greek and Latin and read profusely, something he said he had loved since he was very young.

While the competition at Hofstra was tough, Kevin said he felt a certain excitement and pride at being one of the last two contestants  on stage during the tournament. Although as runner-up he did not qualify to compete in the National Spelling Bee later this year in Washington, D.C., he called the experience “a highlight.”

He plans to go to East Hampton High School next year but has informed Ms. Cleary that he would like to come back to Springs to be a mentor and help coach future spelling bee contestants.

The word that stumped Kevin at Hofstra? “Caudal,” Kevin said. “Meaning of or like a tail.”

For the record, this writer had never heard of it.