Christian Antonio. Image from 10 News broadcast

A 12-year-old who completed seventh grade at Santa Sophia Academy in Spring Valley this month is among the 209 competitors in the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee that began Saturday on a virtual basis.

Christian Antonio qualified for the national bee by winning The San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee which was held March 17 via Zoom. He correctly spelled huipil — a garment worn in Mexico and Central America — to win the 37-speller competition.

Christian is the top player on his tennis team. His hobbies include drawing digital art, speed-solving different kinds of Rubik’s Cubes and playing the guitar.

Christian loves traveling the world. He has been to 17 countries.

Christian has won his school’s annual poem/speech contest every year since kindergarten.

San Diego County has produced two national spelling bee champions — Anurag Kashyap in 2005 and Snigdha Nandipati in 2012.

Saturday’s preliminaries consist of three rounds of oral competition.

In the first round, spellers are asked to spell a word. If they spell it correctly, they will compete immediately in the second round, answering a multiple-choice word meaning question.

If they answer that correctly, they will be asked to spell another word.

Spellers answering all three questions correctly will advance to Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

The preliminaries will be televised by the streaming service ESPN3 from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

All competition through the semifinals will be held on a virtual basis. The top 10-12 finalists will travel to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Bay Lake, Florida for the finals, which will be held July 8.

The bee is limited to students who were in eighth grade or lower on Aug. 31, 2020. Contestants range in age from 9 to 15 years old.

The field consists of spellers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense schools in Europe.

Four foreign nations are also represented — the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, and Japan.

The winner will receive $50,000, a commemorative medal and the Scripps Cup, the official championship trophy of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, from Scripps, which owns television stations and cable and broadcast networks.

The winner also will receive $2,500 and a complete reference library from the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster; $400 of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica, including a replica set of the 1768 encyclopedia, and a three-year online membership.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers to make several changes to the bee in addition to holding the competition on a virtual basis through the semifinals and dropping a multiple-choice test with 12 spelling words and 14 vocabulary questions

A proprietary online testing platform was developed to provide educators and other program sponsors with an alternate and easily accessible mechanism to administer testing for local-level bees, allowed for greater flexibility to participate while complying with local pandemic response requirements.

Organizers also provided guidance for schools and sponsors who carried out video conference spelling bees.

The bee contracted with a technology vendor to create a level playing field and competition space so every speller in the national finals has the same virtual experience.

The vendor also provided the bee with tracking information to uphold the integrity of the competition.

In an attempt to duplicate the bee’s comradery amongst the spellers and to ensure spellers and families felt like they were at Bee Week organizers designed a virtual suite of programs, with a space to connect and celebrate their accomplishments.

Virtual events for spellers and families included a virtual kickoff party, including a family scavenger hunt and dance party, and a virtual opening ceremony Friday livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.

The field dropped 62.8% from the record field of 562 when the bee last was held in 2019, mainly because of the dropping of the RSVBee program, which gave students living in areas without sponsored regional competitions the opportunity to advance to the national bee along with spellers in competitive regions, where one speller is declared the winner from thousands of schools.

The program first was offered for the 2018 bee and that year’s champion, Karthik Nemmani, of McKinney, Texas, was an RSVBee participant.

A decision on if the program will return in 2022 has not been made because “the Bee is laser-focused on the 2021 competition and creating a fun and memorable experience for its 209 finalists this year,” Becca Cochran McCarter, Scripps’ manager, external communications, told City News Service.

“The Scripps National Spelling Bee is always evaluating its program to make sure it’s the best experience for all and provides the greatest opportunity for spellers everywhere,” Cochran McCarter said.

–City News Service

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