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Hammond fourth-grader spells his way to victory

Adam Akan Montessori Children's Schoolhouse Hammond is congratulated after winning 2014 Lake/Porter County District Spelling Bee Saturday February 15 2014

Adam Akan of Montessori Children's Schoolhouse in Hammond is congratulated after winning the 2014 Lake/Porter County District Spelling Bee on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at Wheeler High School. He and the rest of the top ten will compete again on March 8 against finalists from the LaPorte County bee. The winner of that bee will go to Washington, D.C. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 18, 2014 6:18AM



VALPARAISO — “L-I-N-G-U-A F-R-A-N-C-A.”

Nine-year-old Adam Akan walked up to the microphone in the Wheeler High School auditorium and without hesitation belted out each letter to correctly spell the word that would earn him first place in the Lake/Porter County District Spelling Bee.

“He just owned it,” said Robin Kusiak, his teacher at Montessori Children’s School in Hammond.

Kusiak was part of an entourage of the boy’s supporters including Adam’s parents, Andy and Anna Akan, grandparents, Stephanie and Antonio Porcaro, and his little brother Michael, 6, at the district bee, held Saturday.

Adam, along with the top the other nine top finalists, will move on to the Final Bee March 8 at Wheeler that will pit the 10 Lake/Porter winners against nine of their LaPorte County counterparts. First place winner in the final will earn a spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. in May.

The fourth-grader was visibly confident throughout the bee; Adam was the only participant who did not have to ask for a word to be defined, or to have pronouncer Scott Simerlein to use it in a sentence.

“He was one of our most confident spellers (ever). He didn’t even budge on any of the words,” Simerlein said.

While Adam appeared confident to observers, he said that was not quite the case.

“I was very nervous,” he said. “I just thought about the word and spelled it. Sometimes I thought about something else for a second to calm myself.”

Adam said he worked daily to learn the words that might come up, spending at least two hours a day studying on the computer and drilling with his mom. He also wrote each word down three times, a trick he said his mom taught him. The hard work paid off.

“It feels great to win,” he said.

Adam competed against students in third through eighth grade, making him one of the younger competitors in the district’s top 14.

“We’re just amazed and proud,” Andy Akan said. “He never stops amazing us. He’s just always been fantastic with words. It’s always come natural to him.”

Second place winner Sophia Panos, 13, of Forest Ridge Academy in Schererville and Zoe Swayne, also 13, of Immanuel Lutheran School in Valparaiso, were equally pleased with their accomplishment.

“It’s just great I made it so farm” Sophia said.

“I just read thousands of words over and over. I’m lucky I remembered half of them,” Zoe said.

Saranya Sanaka, 11, of Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster, earned the last spot to advance to the Final Bee after a three-round spell against two other contestants after all were eliminated in the same round.

“I feel like really happy…I’m representing my school. It just feels good to do something like this,” Saranya said.

Other participants Saturday were:

Raeghann Horton, Aquinas Catholic Community School

Violet Needham, Chesterton Middle School

Haleigh Olthof, Crown Point Christian School

Erin Yonkman, Highland Christian School

Omar Perez, Highland Middle School

Esther Jin, Home Education Reaching Out

Scott Lyons, St. Thomas More School

Sean Ives, Trinity Lutheran School



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