Quintessence brought her down.
Leilani Campos stumbled over spelling the word in the third round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, prematurely ending her second trip in as many years to the nation’s foremost student spelling competition.
Yet despite her early exit, the San Mateo native reflected fondly on her time in Washington, D.C., where she spelled against nearly 500 peers from across the county before a nationally-televised audience.
“It was really fun, I definitely was not as nervous as I was last year,” said Campos, an eighth-grader at Borel Middle School who plans to attend Nueva School’s Upper School in San Mateo next year.
Campos took a written test in her first round and correctly spelled miasma in the second before misspelling quintessence — confusing the second s with a c — and ending her run in the preliminary rounds. Prithvi Dixit, of Ralston Middle School in Belmont, and Nicole Yang, of Foster City Elementary School, also participated in the competition but failed to advance beyond the preliminaries as well.
Ultimately, the tournament ended in unorthodox fashion with eight co-champions who tied for first place when judges ran out of prompt words.
Campos, who stayed to enjoy the rest of the competition, said she was pleased to witness such a unique outcome.
“I thought it was really cool and I thought they were all really deserving,” said Campos.
And while the end of the tournament may not have gone the way she hoped, the opening offered more than she expected. Event organizers selected Campos to follow for an introductory segment detailing a day in the life of a competitive speller.
Campos said video crews captured her preparation process for a documentary shown before the tournament, which culminated with her on stage for the event opening, introducing the master of ceremonies and igniting the bee sign symbolizing the start of the competition.
“It went really well, I had a really fun time,” said Campos.
Once the competition started, Campos said she drew on the lessons she learned in her previous trip to improve her performance this time around. Her experience as well as improved practice routine proved useful, she said.
“Last year, I felt like I did a lot of guessing. But I recognized more words this year, so my studying definitely paid off,” she said.
Nicole McNeil admired her daughter’s performance as well.
“We had another great year at the bee and did even better than last year, so I’m just really proud,” she said.
With her advancement to high school, Campos’ run in the Scripps National Spelling Bee is officially over, as she has aged out of the event. But the competition will continue to capture a portion of her focus, as she plans over the coming years to coach other contestants hoping to follow her path to Washington, D.C.
For those looking to excel in competitive spelling, Campos recommended studying root words and language patterns while following a personalized work plan which is not too burdensome.
“My advice would be to make sure you have a plan for how to study when you go into it. Set goals. If you want to master a certain amount of words or roots, it should be divided into increments. If you are reading a spelling book, don’t get intimidated,” she said. “Take it one step at a time.”
She also advises against reading the dictionary with any intent to improve one’s performance.
“It’s not like you are going to retain all that information,” she said, suggesting instead to check the word of the day on the Merriam-Webster website as a more accessible gateway for learning more about vocabulary and spelling.
Reflecting on her entire experience, as well as the words she learned and the friends she made, Campos said she enjoyed her time at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“I feel like it was a really good two years,” she said.
Moreover, she said she had the most typical example or representative experience for a contestant.
“I have more knowledge than I did when I started the spelling bee, and I feel like that is the point,” she said.
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