C-H-A-M-P: El Rancho Charter School eighth-grader wins Orange County Spelling Bee

Orange County Spelling Bee winners
Aaron Lim (center), an eighth-grader from El Rancho Charter School in Anaheim, was announced as the winner of the 2023 Orange County Spelling Bee after successfully tackling “gallivat” in the 18th round. With the victory comes an automatic invitation to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held in Washington D.C. May 31 through June 3.

After two days of intense competition, it all came down to “gallivat.” 

The word refers to an East Indian ship propelled by sails and oars that’s often armed and used by pirates. But eighth-grader Aaron Lim of El Rancho Charter School in Anaheim just had to sequence its letters correctly.

He did so perfectly on Saturday afternoon to emerge as champion of the 2023 Orange County Spelling Bee after 18 high-stakes rounds. Next comes a chance to represent his county at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.

Holding a two-tiered trophy, Aaron said he was feeling great — and relieved.

“I’ve been studying for this — for what, three years? — and put in over a thousand hours, so pretty relieved,” he said. “Like, every time I spell a word and up I’m there, I’m like, ‘Please don’t get this wrong, please don’t get this wrong.’”

Aaron Lim
Orange County Spelling Bee winner Aaron Lim

Second place was a tie between Callie Yang of Plaza Vista School, a K-8 campus in the Irvine Unified School District, and Mahima Wuppalapati of Beacon Park K-8 School, which is also in Irvine Unified. Each student earned a $250 prize after exiting in round 17.

Third place similarly came down to a tie. Elizabeth Horner of Heritage Oak Private Education and Hannah Ramirez from Cabrillo Point Academy both made it to round 13 and took home $100 prizes.

101 stellar spellers

Presented by the Orange County Department of Education, the Orange County Spelling Bee began with 101 standout spellers who had won their school or district bees. On Feb. 27, they gathered at OCDE’s Costa Mesa administrative campus to take a 25-question written spelling and vocabulary test. 

From that group, the top 32 were invited to participate in Saturday’s final oral round, which started at 9 a.m. Rebecca Kaminsky, professor of English at Irvine Valley College, served as the competition’s pronouncer. OCDE staff supported the event as judges and bee officials.

Over the next four hours came a volley of challenging words like “castellated,” “nubilous,” “embouchure,” “anathema,” “scrivener,” “crinoline” and “panary.” Round by round, the pool of students who were still standing gradually diminished, until there was only one. 

Training and preparation

Aaron, who was competing in his third county bee, said he mainly prepares by looking at sample words and spelling them, as if he’s taking part in an actual contest but with the answers nearby. 

“The last couple weeks I’ve been testing with my dad,” he said, “and lots of cramming.” He added that he planned on learning a lot of etymology “and maybe trying to grasp each language.”

“The Merriam-Webster dictionary is like 450,000 words,” he said, “so I don’t plan on memorizing that.”

The 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee will take place in Washington D.C. May 31 through June 3. Travel expenses will be paid by the Orange County Register, which sponsors the county contest along with OCDE.

For more information on the Orange County Spelling Bee, visit ocde.us/SpellingBee.