It took 24 rounds spread over five nerve-wracking hours to decide the 57th annual Orange County Spelling Bee champion on Saturday.
It came down to whether Dean Alkhairy, an eighth-grader at Fairmont Private School in North Tustin, could spell “canaille.” Dean did so without hesitation, edging out seventh-grader Brandon Tran from Bell Intermediate in Garden Grove.
“When the word came up, I knew I won,” said Dean, who already had the word memorized. Canaille means a mob or a ramble. Following his win, Dean screamed, jumped in delight and ran to hug his family, who had been nervously watching throughout the day.
As county champion, Dean clinched a trip to the 93rd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland. Travel expenses will be offset by the Orange County Register, which sponsored the contest along with the Orange County Department of Education.
Dean, a fan of Kobe Bryant, was assigned the number 24 during Saturday’s competition, the same number Bryant wore for much of his career. Dean said he felt inspired by his number and found it symbolic that the competition also went into the 24th round.
Dean finished in second place during last year’s county competition, so he said he felt better prepared going into this year’s final.
“It’s definitely a benefit to know what to expect,” he said. “I was more focused this year. I was pretty confident. I’m pretty sure I knew all the words that I got this year.”
The 57th annual county bee actually began on Monday, Feb. 24 with a preliminary written round at the OCDE campus, drawing more than 100 students from public and private schools who had won their school or district-level competitions.
That event narrowed the field to 38 finalists who made it to Saturday’s showdown in the OCDE Board Room.
Brandon, the second-place finisher, earned a trophy and $500. Prakruthi Praveen, from Venado Middle School in Irvine Unified, finished third, winning $250. Other top finishers also won trophies.
The national bee begins on May 24 and will crown a champion on May 29.