Eesha Sohail, a seventh-grade student at Norris Middle School, beat 22 competitors after more than 20 rounds of intense competition to win the 31st Kern County Scripps National Spelling Bee Monday night.
Eesha, 12, spelled the winning word, “frangibility,” without pause and waited for the announcer to give her a final word.
Instead, she learned “frangibility” was the winning word and she broke into a huge grin.
“I did not come here prepared to make a speech, so I’m just going to say this is awesome,” Eesha said.
The competition was riveting, with many hushed “ahs” from the crowd at the Dore Theatre at Cal State Bakersfield. It tested a group of 23 students from 15 schools and three districts.
Some students interlocked their fingers and shoved fists in the air while thinking about a particular word or after getting one correct.
Others clapped hands with peers and tapped fingertips against flat palms in response to a slew of challenging words, unlucky verbal mishaps and careful choices.
Eesha had to outlast fellow Norris School District students — and siblings — Angelina and Sydney Cho through 11 tense rounds and words such as “charlatan,” “ameliorate” and “fission.”
Sydney, a fourth-grader, missed on “fraudulent.” Eesha then missed “insurgents.” That left it up to sixth-grader Angelina to spell two words for the title.
She got “grammaticism.” Then, the rules stipulated she spell one more correctly for the win, or Eesha would gain a second chance.
The word was “freshet,” but she misspelled it, and the competition continued.
A few words later, Angelina missed “cavil,” and after Eesha spelled “frangibility,” the title was hers.
When Eesha won the contest, her mother, Rabia Sohail, clutched her father, Asif, and cried.
Carolyn Bunker, head judge of the competition and a part of the bee for about 20 years, said success in the contest is more about luck than intelligence.
“The ability to spell doesn’t have anything to do with how intelligent they are,” she said.
Shirley Walston, a coordinator of the bee, said it is also a learning opportunity for students, some of whom may remember the moment for the rest of their lives.
“These kids are all winners, even if they aren’t the champion tonight,” Walston said before the contest.
Eesha is a second-time winner of a local spelling bee. Three years ago, however, when she won at the district level, there was no countywide competition.
Her mother — and coach — said even so, Monday’s competition was nervewracking.
“I was so nervous,” Rabia Sohail said.
Eesha will compete in the national competition May 25-31 in Washington, D.C.