Can you spell c-h-a-m-p-i-o-n?

Khugan Chan (left) and Emily Sun between rounds at the Boston spelling bee.
Khugan Chan (left) and Emily Sun between rounds at the Boston spelling bee.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

After 36 rounds spelling words that occasionally stumped the judges of the city’s annual spelling bee, Emily Sun, 13, took home the championship.

Sun, a student at Boston Latin School, was able to beat out her opponent Khugan Chan, an 11-year-old from Josiah Quincy School in Chinatown, by first spelling the word “Nicaraguan” and then, right after, “diurnal.”

When the panel of three judges informed Sun that she was correct in her spelling of the final word, she jumped with joy on the stage and covered her mouth in disbelief.

So how did she manage to spell out diurnal for the win?


“The definition was ‘active at day.’ So that reminded me of nocturnal, and ‘urnal’ is part of diurnal. Since I go to Boston Latin School, we learn Latin. And ‘di,’ I believe, is ‘day,’ ” she said, after winning the competition.

You could almost see the cogs working in her brain.

Twenty students from across Boston participated in the Centers for Youth and Family Citywide Spelling Bee Saturday, which was held at the Mildred Avenue Community Center. The event was hosted by the Boston centers and sponsored by the Boston Bruins Foundation and JetBlue.

The day began with a reception at the community center, where spellers fueled up on fruit and Danishes before the bee got underway. Mayor Martin J. Walsh then helped kick off the event, which is in its ninth year.

To qualify, students had to first win spelling bees held in their classrooms, then later schoolwide bees. More than 3,200 young people from Boston’s schools had vied for a chance to make it to the citywide event.

As the contest progressed, the words became harder. What started with “harmonica,” “chocolate,” and “condor,” quickly turned into a contest where young students were expected to know Russian terms like “glasnost” and “Cheka.” Other words included “vorlage,” “inosculate,” and “amethyst.”


“You were spelling words that even I didn’t know existed,” said Felix Arroyo, the city’s chief of health and human services, who was one of three judges.

One by one, eager students were eliminated. By the 11th round, three remained. When Markos Mamalakis, a seventh-grader from the Hub Homeschool Group, couldn’t spell “kirtle” in the 21st round, it left just Sun and Chan sitting nervously on stage.

Toward the nail-biting finish, some of the more difficult language tripped up contestants momentarily. But not enough to keep them from trudging on.

“I just picture the words in my mind,” said Sun, who would sometimes trace the letters on paper, before gripping the microphone with both hands and spelling for the judges.

Sun will now advance to The Scripps National Spelling Bee, the nation’s longest-running spelling bee, in Washington, D.C., in May. Sun was also awarded a dictionary, a $100 savings bond, and subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Hongwu Zhang, Sun’s mother, was glowing with pride following the event. Last year, Sun won second place, so this year’s contest was particularly exciting.

“I’m just so proud of her,” she said, admitting even she couldn’t spell the words her daughter mastered.

Officials said that aside from each participant being impressive, this year’s bee had also set a record. Students went 21 regular rounds before the competition advanced to the finals. In all, there were 36 rounds, including the final rounds and championship round. Last year there were just 29 until the finish.


“It just shows the youth of Boston are really getting excited about the bee,” said Joan Lanigan, program manager for the Boston centers.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.