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Montgomery Eighth Grader Wins the Somerset County Spelling Bee and Now Prepares for Nat'l Contest

By Sarah Abrahamsen and Pennie Lu

Most people don’t use the word “tumpline” in their everyday vocabulary, however that was the winning word for Montgomery’s Atharv Narvekar in Somerset County Library’s ‘Bee Spectacular’ spelling bee this year.

Hosted for the first time at the new Montgomery Municipal Center on March 4, 24 children in grades 3 through 8 from schools throughout the county competed in this event. To qualify, each student had to be the spelling-bee champion from their schools.

Somerset County Spelling Bee Champion Atharv Narvekar, an eighth grader at Montgomery Upper Middle School, and second place winner Elisabeth Quiroz, a fifth grader at Immaculate Conception school in Somerville. Photo by Barbara A. Preston.

While the words from the spelling bee would stump most adults, these contestants repeated them as if they were reading from the dictionary.

“The sheer brilliance of these children is just amazing. They spell words that you can’t even pronounce,” says Carolann C. De Matos, marketing director of the Somerset County Library.

The contest included a variety of tricky words, such as kookaburra, conical, madrigal, and beaucoup. Ultimately, the misspelling the word “anise” knocked out second place winner Elisabeth Quiroz, a fifth grader at Immaculate Conception school in Somerville.

This year’s winner, Narvekar, said winning “felt great.”

Narvekar—like most other eighth graders—loves fun activities like playing basketball and watching movies, but he also dedicates anywhere from 12 to 14 hours each week practicing his spelling bee words.

“Hard work is greater than luck,” he said.

Narvekar’s discipline has paid off. He held the second place spot in the Somerset County Spelling Bee Spectacular for the last two years in a row. This spring he will head to Washington D.C. to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The almost 100-year-old competition will bring Narvekar, along with 200 other champion spellers, to compete at an even higher level.

Narvekar says his inspiration to compete in spelling bees came from watching his older sister Aryahi, a Montgomery High School graduate who competed in local spelling bees. Their mother and coach, Akhila Gullapalli, also has given them both encouragement through the years.

Atharv Narvekar with his father Ameya and his sister, Aryahi, who is also an accomplished speller. Atharv’s mother, Akhila Gullapalli, is his coach. She, however, cannot attend the spelling bees because she gets too anxious, according to Amey. She spent the time praying at the local temple.

“My family has been extremely supportive,” Atharv says. “I couldn’t have won this without them.”

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In addition to studying his words, he also relies on his instincts when he is competing. In fact, he said he wasn’t 100 percent sure about the correct spelling of the winning word, but he trusted his first instinct.

“I followed my gut,” he said.

Spelling Bee judges with the winners. From left: Somerset County Commissioners Douglas Singleterry, Director Shanel Y. Robinson, Atharv Narvekar, Somerset County Library System Director Brian Auger, Elisabeth Quiroz, Montgomery Township Mayor Devra Keenan, and Commissioner Paul Drake.

The Spelling Bee Spectacular has been successful over the years, so successful that the sponsors are asking for help.

“We need adult volunteers,” said Somerset County Library System Director Brian Auger, who was the event’s moderator. “There’s so much more we could do to make it better and run more smoothly.”

Contact Auger at to find out how to get involved. ■


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