You could tell that Vipul Shekhawat was nervous Tuesday evening by the way he gripped a sign hanging from his neck that said "Lakeside Middle School." The seventh-grader's fingers pinched tightly at the laminated sign's edges, holding it beneath his tense face.
But relief swept over Vipul when he heard the word "obelisk."
He quickly gave the correct spelling to win the annual Columbia County Spelling Bee at Grovetown Middle School.
"It's a word that's in a computer game I play all the time," Vipul said. "I knew how to spell it as soon as (the moderator) said it."
Vipul defeated 21 other contestants, from fourth-graders to eighth-graders, who represented all of the county's elementary and middle schools.
Competing in his second countywide spelling bee, Vipul almost lost the contest after misspelling "reverberate" in the 12th round.
He gained a reprieve when Harlem Middle School eighth-grader Katie Driggers misspelled "combatant."
Two rounds later, Katie misspelled "azalea," giving Vipul his shot at victory.
"Spelling bees are more tense than a Friday night football game," Grovetown Middle School Principal Carolyn Fries said at the onset of the contest.
Vipul admitted he was nervous at the beginning but said he felt good about his chances as the contest wore on.
"I'm proud I won," he said. "I knew I would probably win when it came down to me and just one other person."
On March 5, Vipul will repre-sent Columbia County in an district spelling bee held at The Augusta Chronicle building at 725 Broad Street.
The winner of that competition will go on to compete at the 78th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., held May 31 through June 2.
Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.