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Tuckahoe Middle seventh grader wins Henrico County Public Schools’ Divisionwide Spelling Bee

What began as an open-ended showcase of the county’s sharpest spellers resulted in a one-on-one heavyweight bout filled with twists, turns and championship-worthy performances. 

Trevor Dickerson

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What began as an open-ended showcase of the county’s sharpest spellers resulted in a one-on-one heavyweight bout filled with twists, turns and championship-worthy performances.

After 19 rounds of competition, Rohith “Ro” Thomas, a seventh grade student at Tuckahoe Middle School, correctly spelled “tapetum” to clinch the victory at Henrico County Public Schools’ 2024 Divisionwide Spelling Bee at Highland Springs High School on Thursday evening.

The 12-year-old’s win came after more than 10 rounds of a back-and-forth contest with runner-up Taran Shivkumar, a sixth grader from Moody Middle School. At two different points in the final stretch, one contestant answered incorrectly, only for the other to also spell the word incorrectly, extending the competition into the night. Bee rules require that the champion spell a final word correctly to win the contest.

Among the words Ro spelled in his run to the title were “kyphoplasty,” “contrapposto” and “pyxis.” Ro, who describes himself as “kind of an anxious person,” said he felt nervous as he sat in his chair — often trying to take deep breaths while his legs shook — but relief and happiness took over once he correctly spelled his winning word.

He celebrated his win along with his sister, Anna, a fifth grader from Maybeury Elementary School who also made it into the top-10 finishers at the annual event, which features champions from each of HCPS’ elementary and middle schools. The championship was a long time coming for Ro.

“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “I’ve been attending this bee for three years in person and one virtual … but I just could not believe it because I’d been waiting for this moment for so long.”

Taran, who showed off his joyous personality on stage, said he was happy to push Ro as long as he did.

“It still filled my heart to the brim and my parents’ hearts as well because I managed to put up a good battle with Ro and prolong it for a long time,” said the 11-year-old runner-up, who uses his vocabulary in his own fantasy stories. “I am very happy that Ro is going to regionals, and I’m happy that I managed to make my parents proud.”

After the bee, Ro was presented with the trophy by Alicia Atkins, School Board chair and Varina District representative, and Lesley Hughes, HCPS’ chief learning officer. The trophy will be on display at Tuckahoe Middle until at least next January, when a new champ is crowned. The award was made possible by a donation from four-time Henrico spelling champion Tejas Muthusamy. The Henrico Education Foundation had the trophy made.

Ro will move on to represent HCPS in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Regional Spelling Bee on March 7. The regional winner will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which begins May 28 and is televised by ESPN.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.