Spelling Champ Prepares For Nationals

Akira is excited to be a contestant in the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Akira is excited to be a contestant in the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Eighth-grader Akira Takabayashi is reading a dictionary as he trains for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 28-31

Akira Takabayashi’s favorite subjects in school are math and science. But that doesn’t mean he can’t spell.

It’s obvious the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School eighth-grader is passionate about words, as he recently won the Hawaii State Spelling Bee, and later this month he will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. starting May 28.

“I feel happy and proud I won,” he says.

The hours he spent studying outside the classroom prove his dedication to the craft. In addition to Takabayashi’s regular studies, he pored over a 1,150-word list provided by his school and received tutoring from coaches and friends.

“My children enjoy reading and studying,” says Takabayashi’s father, Eric, who also has a 12-year-old daughter, Rina.

Though Akira was born in Japan where his mother, Yoko, is from, his family moved to Kaua’i in an attempt to escape the social pressure and competitive nature of Japanese education.

“It’s a way of life there,” says Eric, who was born and raised on Kaua’i and worked as an English teacher in Japan for many years. “I didn’t want my children to be caught up in that.”

Regardless, they each strive to be the best they can be at school.

“At least it’s on their own,” says Eric.

Akira Takabayashi, flanked by his parents, Yoko and Eric, proudly shows off his Hawaii Spelling Bee trophy. With them is Dave Hinazumi (right) of Grove Farm | Photos from Dara Young

Akira Takabayashi, flanked by his parents, Yoko and Eric, proudly shows off his Hawaii Spelling Bee trophy. With them is Dave Hinazumi (right) of Grove Farm | Photos from Dara Young

Akira also entered the spelling bee in the sixth grade, but lost.

“I studied more this time,” he explains with a smile.

Now, in preparation for the national competition, Akira diligently has been reading the dictionary.

“He’s reading it like a book,” says Eric.

While most children would likely lose interest in such dry material, Akira says he’s enjoyed reading it. He even is continuing to look over a list of Greek and Latin roots and suffixes to help improve his spelling capabilities: “I want to win.”

Though he is nervous to spell words out loud on live television for the upcoming contest, Akira is excited to visit the United States capital. And being the science buff he is, he’s especially looking forward to visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

However, Akira likely won’t have much time for sightseeing, if his trip is anything like the one to Honolulu, where he participated in the state competition. After winning, he was propelled to local celebrity status, and during his three days on Oahu he was contacted by several news agencies, all vying for an interview.

“I don’t really like the attention,” says Akira humbly.

Even so, he was thankful to spend time with his family eating Japanese food and “wearing nice clothes.” Akira also is thankful that he will get to be with his family for the trip to Washington, D.C., to aio (the state bee sponsor) and Grove Farm. An all expenses one-week paid trip to the nation’s capital is supplied for Akira and a chaperone by aio.

“And Grove Farm generously stepped in to pay for my daughter and me to make it a family experience,” says Eric. “Traveling to D.C. for Nationals will be a special experience because we won’t be able to do it again. We don’t get to travel just for fun.”

The competition will be held May 29, 30 and 31 and broadcasted on ESPN.

“We wish Akira the best of luck as he prepares for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and we know he will represent Hawaii well,” says Susan Eichor, president of aio.

Go to spellingbee.com for more information.

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