Speller ‘tames beast’ again, has eye on the national prize

Razeen Basunia of Rollings School of the Arts is all smiles Thursday after winning the Dorchester District 2 Spelling Bee at Summerville High School.

Razeen Basunia has his sights set on a bigger prize than the Dorchester District 2 Spelling Bee.

The Rollings Middle School of the Arts eighth-grader on Thursday repeated as the district’s top speller. Razeen of North Charleston beat out 53 other students in grades 5-8. Megan Dagley of Gregg Middle School also repeated as the second-place finisher after 24 rounds of competition.

“I’ve tamed the beast of the district spelling bee,” Razeen, 12, said. “I’m going for (the Scripps National Spelling Bee) again and now I know what to do there. I’m studying every word that can be possibly be used.”

Last year, he made it through the first three rounds at the national bee, which is considered tied for 47th. The National Spelling Bee includes computer tests on spelling and definitions to qualify for the semifinals and finals.

To make it to the national competition, set for May 1 in National Harbor, Maryland, Razeen will first have to repeat as the winner of Spellbound!, the Lowcountry’s spelling bee.

Razeen, who envisions typing words on a keyboard as he spells them, said he wasn’t challenged by Thursday’s bee. He breezed through “magnanimous,” “hypocrisy,” “archipelago,” “bellicose” and “azimuth,” and even corrected pronouncer Lisa Cuthbert on how to say “infinitesimal.”

“I didn’t do much preparing (for the district bee) because I’ve been at this list for four years,” said Razeen, the son of Ayesha Zaman and Mahmudunnabi Basunia. “I’ve really mastered the list.”

Beech Hill Elementary’s Tess Abrams got the day’s biggest applause and laughs in Round 6 after she accidently started spelling “Amarillo” with an “M.” Quickly realizing that the rules prohibit starting over and that she would be disqualified, she followed up with “Q-U-E-S-Z-Y.”

After 10 rounds, the field was narrowed to Razeen, Megan and Newington Elementary fifth-grader Brent Ebarle.

The three students went another 12 rounds, until Brent, 10, got ahead of himself on “soliloquy,” and started “S-O-I-L.” Brent, a son of Gil and Dhenia Ebarle, moved to Summerville from the Philippines nine months ago and speaks English as a second language.

“He was very frustrated,” said his father after the event. “I told him to say the word first before spelling it.”

Two rounds later, Megan, 12, stumbled on “philately,” starting with an “F.” Razeen spelled it correctly and added “trattoria” to take the title.

“I don’t mind being second because I’m still going to Spellbound!,” said Megan, the daughter of Zena and David Dagley of Summerville.

The top nine finishers will now advance to Spellbound!, which will be held March 12 at Charleston Southern University’s Lightsey Chapel. In addition to Razeen, Megan and Brent, the other students who will advance are (in order of finish): Ishraq Haque of Rollings; Elizabeth O’Neill of Rollings; Cameron Bicknell of DuBose Middle School; Tess Abrams of Beech Hill; Michaela Gonnella of Rollings; and William Cooper of River Oaks Middle School.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.