‘Kestrel,’ ‘potsherd’ and ‘gradine’: Pacific Trails middle schooler wins spelling bee

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SAN DIEGO -- A Pacific Trails Middle School eighth-grader won the San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee Thursday and will represent the San Diego region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Kevin Luo, 13, will head to the national competition of ace spellers in May in National Harbor, Maryland, after besting 92 other competitors in the local spelling bee by correctly spelling "gradine," which is a riser, or a series of low steps or seats raised above one another. This is the second consecutive year that a student at Pacific Trails in Carmel Valley has won the countywide title.

"The Spelling Bee is a time-honored academic competition that I'm glad is still practiced and applauded today," said Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools.

Round one of the San Diego competition started off with easier words like "bagel," "dejected" and "loiter." Things got more difficult as more than half of participants were eliminated in the first and second rounds, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.

The third round included words like "kestrel," a type of falcon; "potsherd," a piece of broken earthen pot; and "theomachy," a battle or strife among the gods.

There were two other spellers in the final round: Bennet Wade, a seventh-grader at Classical Academy, and Felipe Contreras, a seventh-grader at Pacific Beach Middle School. They will serve as alternates if Luo is unable to compete in the national competition.

A San Diego representative last took home the national title in 2012, when Francis Parker School student Snigdha Nandipati won the competition.