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Meet the local students representing the Tampa Bay Area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Posted at 9:33 AM, May 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-30 10:21:13-04

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — With over 500 spellers from across the country competing, eight local students are hoping they'll bring the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship home to the Bay Area. 

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David De Coursy, 12, Clearwater

David is a sixth grader at Berkeley Preparatory School. He tells ABC Action News, "I'm very excited to go to the spelling bee and I'm really looking forward to winning."

He's passionate about reading and his favorite book is 'Beowulf'. To prepare for the competition he copies words and has his mom quiz him. If he gets nervous he tells himself, "I'm prepared, I've been studying and I know this." He made it to nationals in 2017 and tied for 41st place. 

Karina Montoya, 13, Land O' Lakes
(Eliminated in second round of preliminaries)

Karina is a seventh grader at Odessa Christian School. Her favorite sport is tennis and she loves to read. Her favorite author is Margaret Peterson Haddix.  She told ABC Action News she's excited to compete and to visit Washington D.C. for the very first time.

She said likes to listen to music while she studies because it helps her keep her focus. When asked how she deals with the nerves of competition Karina said, "I have Bible verses that calm me down. I just repeat them and I get calm."  

Jasmin Pruthi, 14, Winter Haven. 

Jasmin is an eighth grader at St. Josephs Catholic School. She told us that it's important to know and understand so many words because, "We can actually express what we think and know, and how we feel, in a variety of ways."

She has a lucky charm that she assured us we'll see in D.C. "I have these light blue pair of shoes that I believe are lucky for me," she said. Blue is her lucky color and she wears her lucky charm to every competition. 


Anish Tejomurtula, 12, Palm Harbor. 

Anish is a seventh grader at Dunedin Highland Middle School. He's excited for the trip because it's his first time going to the national level of any competition.

"I really look forward to going and to spelling it out in front of the judges," Anish said. 

He loves to read, play video games and table tennis. His favorite book is "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J.K. Rowling. He's passionate about spelling but also loves to try new things.  

To prepare for the competition he studies the Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary, where he looks at general language patterns. Even though he isn't intimidated by an audience, if he needs to calm down he takes a deep breath and counts to three. 

Anish said his goal is to place in the top 40, or maybe even top 10, in the competition. 


Arsh Shah, 12, Palm Harbor 

Arsh is a sixth grader at Dunedin Highland Middle School. His favorite subject is math and he hopes to be a doctor one day.  Like another local competitor, this is his second time going to nationals after tying for 41st place in 2017.  

He loves to play basketball and even uses it to help him study.

"I dribble my basketball and then I also say the letters of the word," he said. "That kind of gives me a beat to the word so I can remember it and also play basketball." 

He also watches other spelling bees to help him.  He said he spends one to two hours everyday studying. His goal is to place higher than last year and hopefully make it to nationals again in 2019.  

Carlos Pasquotto, 12, Tampa 

Carlos is a sixth grader at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS. He's been competing in his school spelling bee since he was in second grade. This year was the first time he won the final.

He said he's excited to go to D.C. where he hopes to meet new people and try new things. He likes to play soccer and video games— his favorite is 'Battlefront 2.' 

He also takes piano lessons and is a Boy Scout. 

He practices definitions, route words, language of origins and the spelling of words at home and at school. If he gets nervous while practicing, he uses a calming technique he learned at school called "mindfulness."

"You put your hand on where you feel your breath. I like to use my stomach because I can feel it going in and out, and I clear my mind and get rid of all my other surroundings and I just focus on my calmness, and it helps me a lot," he said. 

His goal is to place in the top 200 of the competition. 

Awwab Azam, 11, Tampa 

Awwab is an seventh grader at Bayaan Academy. He excited to go to D.C. because of all the historic monuments. If he gets nervous he pretends he's at home just spelling the words to his mom.

"Like it's no big deal," he said. 

To prepare he studies all of the most frequently used words in the spelling bee. He looks at the Word of the Day on Merriam-Webster, too. He likes to test his guessing skills against it. In his free time he likes to play his favorite game, 'Minecraft.' 


Alexander Besecker, 13, Safety Harbor
(Eliminated in second round of preliminaries)

Alexander is a seventh grader at Espiritu Santo Catholic School. He's excited to compete and for his family to cheer him on when they see him on TV. 

To prepare he looks to his mom for help. 

"My mom, she tests me on the words," he said. "Also there are online study guides and those really help a lot," he added.

If he gets nervous, he listens to tapes that help him mediate and relax so he can focus on spelling.

He said doesn't need them often though, he told us he's usually pretty calm.