Ten-round spelling final has crowd spellbound

Pupil disputes judges' decision twice to win, after missing top spots in previous two years

ST 20130428 AYYSPELL14B 3633548

Plucky Ashvin Sivakumar, 12, challenged the judges - twice - to become Singapore's spelling champion yesterday.

He beat 30 finalists, leaving Kua Le Yi, 10, from Catholic High School (Primary) in second place and Loi Si Xian, 11, from Raffles Girls' Primary School in third spot.

The intense final of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship ran for about two hours and 10 rounds - compared with last year's seven rounds - as 31 pupils attempted to spell words ranging from "eponymous" to "percolator" to "zephyr".

The lanky Ashvin, a Primary 6 pupil from Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), stole the show when he maintained that his spelling of "pescatarian", as "pescetarian", was right. "I'm pretty sure it can also be spelt 'c-e'. Can you check please?"

When the judges stuck to their call, after referring to the Oxford Dictionary of English and the Cambridge Pronouncing Dictionary, he stood his ground.

They then checked the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for American derivations and sure enough, he was right and awarded him the word.

That gave him the winning shot at "pulchritudinous".

As soon as The Big Spell green lollipop signalled he was right, the 400-strong crowd at the Raffles City Convention Centre erupted.

Ashvin had been a finalist for three years in a row, but this was his first time in the top three.

This win makes him the second champion from ACS (Primary) to win RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship, after last year's winner Jordan Foo, now 13 and a Secondary 1 student in Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).

Ashvin, who won $5,000, said: "I am very happy. I finally got it on my third time." He said he stood his ground as "it was my opportunity... I had to make the best of it".

His father, Mr P. Sivakumar, 47, is a lawyer, and mother Shantini Sivakumar, a tax director in her 40s.

Lighter moments peppered the competition.

When Nanyang Primary's Christopher Andrew Chang, 12, caught himself spelling "narcissistic" with too many "s"s, he muttered "Oh no, no, please, please..." ACS (Primary) pupil Sean Leong, 10, skipped across the stage, and Mayflower Primary's Zachary Sim, 12, spelt "wallaby" with a lilt.

First runner-up Le Yi's attempt at spelling "dachshund" kept viewers rapt. He was so soft-spoken that four judges, three arbitrators and a word referee had to confer, until a majority agreed they had heard the correct sequence.

He said: "I can improve more until I am in Primary 6." He took home $3,000, while second runner-up Si Xian won $1,000.

RHB Banking Group's chairman Azlan Zainol and Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez lauded the 31 finalists for emerging from 1,400 registrants in the preliminary round on March 9, and 132 zonal competitors on April 13.

Mrs Chua Yen Ching, director of the Ministry of Education's curriculum planning and development division, said she was impressed by the children's tenacity.

The competition, held in partnership with the ministry and supported by the National Library Board, with volunteers from Nanyang Polytechnic and snacks sponsored by Nestle, included online spelling games developed by technology partner iQ-hub.



C for Confidence with The Big Spell - Think

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