SYCAMORE – St. Mary Catholic School eighth-grader Magnus Keswani can proudly say he’s never spelled a word incorrectly on national television.
The 12-year-old spelled both “ursine” and “Mecca” correctly in rounds 2 and 3, respectively, of the ESPN3-broadcast 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
Now, the heartbreaking part. He didn’t rack up quite enough points in the preliminary written test, though, to make it to today’s finals. He tied for 41st, he said, and 40 of the competition's 291 spellers advanced to the finals, which will begin at 9 a.m. on ESPN2. The finals will start at 7:30 tonight.
“This is kind of motivation to get back here and try again,” Magnus said. “It makes me feel pretty good about myself, but sad because I was so close.”
Magnus and his entourage – mom and dad, Photine and Sushil, and 15-year-old sister, Elina – get to stick around to watch the finals, and then there’s a party for all the participanthttp://cdn.spellingbee.com/bee/summary_results_for_the_prelims.pdf?1510644s.
For those scoring at home along with us, ursine is defined as relating to or resembling bears. Keswani has been in beast mode since taking the stage at Kishwaukee College, where he qualified for the national bee by winning the Daily Chronicle/DeKalb County Regional Office of Education Regional Spelling Bee in March.
He outlasted 18 other local brainiacs, ultimately punching his ticket to the nation’s capital by spelling “contiguous” correctly.
“We’re super, super proud of him,” Photine said. “It’s a bummer, because he was so close, but it’s amazing how far he’s come, and this has been an awesome family experience.”
That is, except for those moments while her boy strode up to the microphone.
“It’s nerve-racking watching,” she said. “I was just trying to stay calm.”
She said the rest of the family fared much better in those moments.
“My daughter is a remarkably calm person, and not much fazes her at all,” she said. “Magnus is cool under pressure, too. I think he was a little nervous yesterday, but I think he calmed down a bit.”
The key, he said, was to pray and just keep breathing.
Once he spelled “ursine” correctly, all bets were off.
“I just wanted to at least get one word right, to kind of represent DeKalb, Sycamore, and most of all, my school,” he said.
He said he already has a plan, should he make it back to the nation’s capital next year. During that written test, spellers are allowed two five-minute review sessions at the end of the period.
“I kept second-guessing myself and changing my answers,” he said. "Maybe next time, I’ll only use one of the 5-minute reviews.”