C-h-a-m-p-i-o-n . . . again

Kannoth wins fourth straight spelling bee title

Four years ago as a nervous third-grader, Aditya Kannoth stepped to the microphone at Wilder Middle School and quietly started a dynasty.

Kannoth correctly spelled the word "unenforceable" to win the Henrico County Spelling Bee in the ninth round, outlasting nearly 60 other students representing each of the county's elementary and middle schools.

The following year, at Hungary Creek Middle School, Kannoth spelled "exhilarated" correctly to repeat as the county champion in a 15-round bee.

Last year at Hungary Creek, Kannoth spelled "immaculate" in the 13th round to win his third consecutive title.

But he wasn't done yet.

Last week at Hungary Creek, Kannoth outlasted dozens of opponents for the fourth straight year, this year spelling "surrealism" in the 19th round to earn a "four-peat" as county champion.

That Kannoth has excelled so consistently at the highest level perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise. Without any coaching or lessons from his parents, he taught himself to read at the age of 3. By the same age, he had memorized the names of all 50 states and knew their capital cities, his mother, Sarita, recalled recently.

"[In 2009] he came home and said he won his class bee, and we said, ‘Ok, great,’" Sarita Kannoth said. "Then he won the school bee, and then the county bee. We were completely amazed at that point."

His love of reading – a regular pastime at home – "is really what helps him," Sarita Kannoth said. "He's been reading much more than kids normally do at his age. We've let him read a couple of John Grisham books because we were running out of others."

Kannoth, who aspires to be either an engineer (like his father, Vinod) or a neurosurgeon, is driven by a competitive streak.

"Sometimes I don't like studying, but I really look forward to the competition," he said.

When he's not spelling, Kannoth enjoys playing a variety of sports (including tennis and basketball) and video games. He prepares for the spelling bee each year by studying list of words online.

During the competitions, he frequently asks for the definition and origin of a word to help provide himself with clues about its spelling. Then he attempts to visualize the word in his mind.

His advice to would-be spellers?

"First of all, just sound it out," he said. "Depending on the language, it will probably work – except if it's French. That's
harder to sound out."

Several times in the past four county spelling bees, that advice has helped him spell a word that at first seemed tricky, Kannoth said.

On March 10, Kannoth will again compete in the regional spelling bee at the Library of Virginia. This time, he's going with one thought in mind.

"I'm going to try to win it this year," he said.

The ultimate goal of competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. serves as another motivating factor for the young student.

"I've heard it's really nice," he said, "and that it's not just about spelling. They take you on tours and stuff like that."

And despite his success in spelling and interest in reading, Kannoth's favorite subject is math.

"It's pretty complex, challenging," he said.

In addition to being perhaps the most acclaimed scholastic speller in Henrico County history, Kannoth also sports one of the most impressive collections of dictionaries for a student his age. That's because the winner of the Henrico bee receives one each year.

"The very first year, he was fine with the prize," Sarita Kannoth recalled with a chuckle. "Then the next year he said, ‘Oh, I hope it's not a dictionary.’

"Now, we've got a collection of dictionaries."

That's "dictionaries:" D-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-i-e-s.
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