'Gymkhana' carries All Saints 8th-grader to win

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ST. THOMAS ­- The correct spelling of "gymkhana," a term for competitive games on horseback, earned Roshni Lalwani, an eighth-grader at All Saints Cathedral School, the title of St. Thomas-St. John District Intermediate Spelling Bee champion on Friday morning.

This year's bee, which took place at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, lasted seven rounds and was one of the shortest in recent memory, according to judge and retired Addelita Cancryn Junior High principal Ivy Williams.

"They dropped like flies in the first round," Williams said.

The contestants were the top finishers from bees held at 22 private, public and parochial schools. Roshni and five other finalists - Nawell Jamil of Lockhart Elementary School; Ty Massaquoi of Gifft Hill School; Manav Thadani of Antilles School; Talil Johnson of Gladys A. Abraham Elementary School; and Jaden Baron of Wesleyan Academy - will advance to the Territorial Spelling Bee, which will take place this year on St. Croix on a date to be announced.

The winner of the Territorial Spelling Bee will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 28 to May 30.

By the third round on Friday, 13 of the district's 22 spellers had been eliminated.

In Round 6, Nawell misspelled the word "soliloquy," allowing Roshni the chance to clinch her victory.

"I knew it was going to be a tough competition, but I also knew I had worked hard," Roshni said after being awarded her trophy and an iPad tablet.

Roshni also correctly spelled "retrospective," "kremlin," "angst," "autobahn," "surveillance" and "zephyr."

"Angst" caused her some angst, as it was the one word she was not absolutely sure of, she said after the competition.

Her tension mounted as, after she had spelled "angst" correctly in the third round, the judges hesitated, appearing not to have heard her, and asked her to repeat the spelling.

When asked whether "gymkhana" rattled her nerves, she said no.

"Actually, I had studied that word, and I knew it was an Asian word," she said.

The origin is actually from Hindi and Urdu, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the official dictionary of the Scripps competitions.

The 13-year-old has studied since November, and she won the All Saints spelling bee in December. According to her teacher and father, she is a star student in all subjects and will compete on the MathCounts team.

Her father, Chandru Lalwani, beamed with pride as his daughter toted her trophy around the auditorium and posed for photographs.

"She has a good habit of reading. She reads a lot of books," he said.

Roshni's coach and teacher at All Saints, Michelle Braley, said she shifted Roshni away from the rote memorization of words and had her study about 12 different languages to absorb patterns of syllables.

"We started talking about the language of origin and how to look for clues so, that way, even if she gets a word she hasn't memorized, she can make an educated guess," Braley said.

Nawell said she was not disappointed to be in second place, even though she studied many nights from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. in addition to "lunchtime preps."

"No, I am happy for her and for me and for everybody else," Nawell said.

Manav, who also studies using the etymological method and called for the origin of his words in almost every round, said the word "scampi," which he spelled "scampy," hung him up because he had studied the word "scanty."

He plans to continue to study hard for the territorial bee, he said.

- Contact reporter Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email anorris@dailynews.vi.

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