Top speller conquers 'big words'

Darvinash Chandra Mohan says his strongest subject is math.
He knows his spelling, too.

Chandra Mohan, an eighth-grader at Newton-Conover Middle School (NCMS), won the Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS) spelling bee Friday morning.

After runner-up Brianna Marquinez misspelled epilepsy, Chandra Mohan correctly spelled tentativeness and philosophize in the final round. He will represent NCCS in the district bee Feb. 20 in Charlotte.

"Those were big words," he said. "I knew I was going to get them right."

Chandra Mohan is a native of Malaysia. He said he discovered he enjoyed spelling when he moved to the United States in fourth grade.

"He's a regular in our spelling bee," said Amber Humphrey, an instructional coach at Shuford Elementary and the NCCS bee coordinator. "He's gotten closer and closer to winning every year."

Chandra Mohan maintained a rhythm through each of the rounds. He stepped onto the stage, adjusted the microphone and listened for his word from announcer Sherry Mims, a retired NCMS librarian. After hearing his word in each round, he pointed with both hands to Mims and asked for a definition.

"He's calm. He's slow. It gets him comfortable," Humphrey said. "A lot of it has to do with nerves. When you get here to the big auditorium, it gets intimidating. They're used to being in their comfort zones in their home schools."

Students received a list of 350 words to study for the spelling bee. Chandra Mohan started studying the words during the recent holiday break from school.

"It takes a lot of practice and dedication to get here," Humphrey said. "They practice every day and every night."

Twenty NCCS students — the top five from each of the system's elementary and middle schools — competed in the system's spelling bee. Incorrect spellings eliminated 11 students in the first round, four in the second round, two in the third round and one in a fourth round. That set up the final round between Marquinez and Chandra Mohan.

For the victory, Chandra Mohan received a plaque, and his name will be engraved on a plaque at the NCCS district office.