CASTRO VALLEY -- Studying was key for Oakland eighth-grader Aaron Freid, who spelled the word "lollapalooza" correctly to win the Alameda County Junior High Spelling Bee Championship on Saturday.
Aaron got the word -- meaning an unusual thing, person or event -- after second-place finisher Karah Pedregosa, of Dublin, misspelled it. Aaron then spelled "phenomenal" correctly, a fitting tribute to his performance, to take the competition for seventh- and eighth-graders.
"Three of the words I spelled correctly, including lollapalooza, were on a list I had studied," said¿ Aaron, who will enter the ninth grade at Oakland Tech in the fall. "My parents helped me study by reading words off the lists, and my grandparents use a lot of big words when they talk."
As the top two finishers from a field of 12, Aaron and¿ Karah, a seventh-grader at Fallon Middle School in Dublin, advance to the California State Junior High Spelling Championship on May 11 in San Rafael.
Earlier in the day, Anish Punaroor and Sahir Qureshi, both of Fremont, tied for the county elementary school title. The two dueled through multiple rounds after 29 other competitors were eliminated.
Anish, a sixth-grader at Parkmont Elementary, and Sahir, a fifth-grader at Niles Elementary, go on to the state elementary championship April 20 in Stockton.
Both Anish and Sahir studied words from lists provided by state spelling bee sponsors, but both said most of the words that came up were not on the lists.
"I looked at the words and then closed my eyes (to visualize) the spellings," Anish said. "I also look up words in the dictionary when I'm reading."
Competitors at the county level had survived earlier spelling bees in their districts. In all, eight school districts participated in one or both of the competitions.
There are more elementary school participants because children tend to be less interested in the competitions when they reach junior high, said Nathalie Longree-Guevara, the event organizer and the reading/language arts coordinator for the county Office of Education.
Both bees began with a first round of fairly easy words to allow the kids to "warm up," so to speak, Longree-Guevara said.
"We don't like to have kids miss in the first round, but sometimes they do," she said.
As the words got tougher, French words, such as ennui, gauche and potpourri, were especially troublesome, particularly for the elementary school competitors.
Anish and Sahir both missed on vichyssoise, a soup made from potatoes that's served cold, to end up in the tie.
There were also words that few college graduates probably know the meaning of, let alone the spellings, such as zibeline, a thick woolen cloth; larrikin, a street rowdy or a hoodlum; and catechesis, instruction by word of mouth.
Junior high competitors were eliminated with such words as nefarious, quixotic, tousle and demulcent.
"They either know how to spell them because they practice (vocabulary) like crazy or they master the phonetics of the words," said Avi Black, the county's history/social studies coordinator, who led the competition.
The event was the seventh annual elementary school spelling bee and the sixth annual junior high competition.