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Abbotsford boy to represent B.C. at national spelling bee

Priyam Mehta, 11, clinches regional event in his age category to advance
Priyam Mehta of Abbotsford won the B.C. regional portion of the Spelling Bee of Canada competition on Sunday (Aug. 15) and advances to the national event in October. (Submitted photo)

An Abbotsford boy has won a spelling bee competition and will now represent the province in his age group at the national championships in October.

Priyam Mehta, 11, who starts Grade 6 next month at Fraser Middle School, participated Sunday (Aug. 15) in the B.C. regional portion of the 2021 Spelling Bee of Canada competition.

He represented the Fraser Valley and took part in the junior category (nine to 11 years old) of the virtual event, which started with about 60 kids. It proceeded through several phases before it was down to just Priyam and one other boy in the final.

Priyam nailed the win by successfully spelling two words – “telamon” and “stipend” – that his competitor could not.

He won $500 and a medallion and advances to the national virtual competition on Sunday, Oct. 3.

“It was unbelievable,” Priyam said of his win. “I’ve tried a lot of times (before) and the closest I’ve ever come is third place so it was hard to believe at first.”

Priyam’s mom, Poonam, said her son has always loved words, and could read and spell before he was three years old.

He has been a voracious reader over the years, often spending hours a day immersed in books.

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“I actually love reading. I read a lot. So spelling pretty much comes naturally to me,” he said.

Priyam got involved in spelling bees because his sister, Isha, now a third-year university student, took part in them – and won – when she attended South Poplar Traditional School (where Priyam also went until Grade 5).

By the time the family heard about the Spelling Bee of Canada, Isha was too old, but Priyam was the right age to compete at the primary level (ages six to eight), placing third on his first try.

He continued to place in the top five, but this year was his first win.

Contestants are given a list of 400 words prior to the competition, and Priyam studied daily for about three months, with Isha often helping him.

The virtual competition required him to be in a room by himself with the camera on at all times. (If the camera turns off, the contestant can be disqualified.)

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Competitors are also required to hold their hands up in front of the camera when they are spelling to ensure they are not using the keyboard to look up words.

Priyam said he’s probably going to save this $500 prize for college, although he’s not yet sure what he wants to study.

But next is the national spelling bee. Priyam said he will be getting another list of probably 400 words, but in the meantime he’s studying the dictionary every day.

He said it would be a “great honour” to add to his family’s history of winning spelling bees.

“Winning would give me an incredible sense of euphoria, considering how many intelligent and worthy contestants I would be competing against, in addition to the difficult words I’d have to spell,” he said.

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Vikki Hopes

About the Author: Vikki Hopes

I have been a journalist for almost 40 years, and have been at the Abbotsford News since 1991.
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