Kevin Chabla, an eighth-grader at the Springs School, clinched second place at the Hofstra Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee on Sunday after nearly a year of practicing and getting his own school involved.
“I’ve always liked words and reading, even when I was little I was reading,” he said on Monday after being formally congratulated at a Springs School Board meeting. “Words just interest me so much, with how the English language borrows from other different languages and mixes them up and makes it very unique.”
Kevin had approached the school’s assistant principal, Christine Cleary, to create the first ever Springs School Spelling Bee in the spring of 2016, with the winner of that competition going on to the Scripps Regional contest, whose winner moves up to the National Spelling Bee. While the deadline to enroll the school in Scripps had passed at the time, Kevin did his own research on the application process and had the Springs School registered last fall, with the first Springs Spelling Bee held in January. In that contest, Kevin out-spelled seventh- and eighth-grade competitors from his own school.
To prepare for Sunday’s regional bee, Kevin not only spent hours being quizzed by his dad, mom and sister—he also made his own list of word origins and split certain words into categories based on how they’d be used as topics of discussion. He keeps a personal notebook with the pages carefully filled out and detailed to make a vast number of words stand out in his memory, and spends lunch and recess time at school researching word lists to add to the notebook.
He knew the competition would be tough at the regional bee, where he was the only student representing an East End school.
“I could tell that a lot of the kids competing that day were really bright,” Kevin said. “I was looking around at everybody and I was kind of nervous. It was especially nerve-racking during the later rounds. I’d see kids go up and get their words wrong and I was thinking, ‘What if I get the word wrong?’ but thankfully that didn’t really happen.”
Kevin will be moving up to East Hampton High School next year, but has already asked the Springs School Board for permission to come back and help the winner of next year’s Springs Spelling Bee prepare for the regional bee.
“We’re very, very proud of Kevin and we’re hoping that this has started something great for the school,” Ms. Cleary said after Monday’s meeting.
And while some may think he’s only spelling out words, Kevin sees it as something greater.
“It’s a very unique academic competition,” he said. “There’s something so exciting about going up and being one of the last ones left onstage, especially that feeling of when you get it right.”