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East Setauket teen won't advance to semifinals in Scripps National Spelling Bee

Sahil Sangwan, 13, of Paul J. Gelinas Junior

Sahil Sangwan, 13, of Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, is given a kiss by his mother, Neena Chaudhari, during the Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee hosted by Hofstra University on Feb. 8, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Sahil Sangwan, an eighth-grader in the Three Village Central School District competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., this week, will not advance to the semifinals, he said Wednesday afternoon.

But, he said, he's grateful for the experience, adding that he had a chance to meet competitors from as far away as Ghana and Korea.

Sangwan, 13, who attends Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, said he was stumped during an oral part of the preliminary competition when he was asked to spell a word he had never heard: aniseikonia, a condition of the eye.

"I spelled the ending as 'k-o-n-y-a,' instead of 'k-o-n-i-a,' " he said.

Though he felt bad about the loss, he said he would encourage other children to compete, calling it "an amazing, memorable experience."

He said he and his family -- he was joined by his parents and grandmother -- will stay in the nation's capital until Sunday, using the time to visit some of his favorite museums.

Sangwan, in preparing for the competition, spent an hour a day studying spelling and vocabulary, but improved his command of language mostly through reading. His mother, Neena Chaudhari, said her son has torn through the classics in recent months, including "Animal Farm" and "1984" by George Orwell.

And while she knows he's disappointed in not advancing, she's glad he made it this far.

"Sahil always tries his best, and I am so proud of that," she said. "No parent can ask for more. He's always a star to me."

Sangwan, of East Setauket, said his reading list has grown to include "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck in addition to F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."

He said he was drawn to the national bee in part because it brings together like-minded students. "I think it's really cool that a lot of people come together in the same place who like to read, who like literature and spelling -- building our vocabulary and learning new things about the English language," he said.

According to Scripps, 285 students, ages 9 to 15, competing this year come from across the United States and other participating countries. The winner gets a $30,000 cash prize. The finals, set for Thursday night from 8 to 10, will be carried live on ESPN.

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