NATIONAL SPELL-IT-RIGHT CHALLENGE: Veterans at the ball
JOINING THE FRAY: The fifth season of the RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Challenge attracted several familiar faces to Perak and Pahang last weekend.
THE first weekend of the fifth cycle of the RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right Challenge proved to be an interesting one.
A who’s who of the SIR Challenge made for an exciting battle in Perak while in Pahang, a former primary champion failed to make the cut in the secondary category — just a day after successfully spelling the world’s longest word.
The Perak secondary contest was a tough one because of the number of SIR veterans — including former champions — that had joined the fray.
Despite being on the SIR stage before, a number of these youngsters still felt nervous about entering this year.
No one can blame them — while preparation and experience were in their favour, luck and nerves level the playing field.
Two of last year’s secondary title holders — Sancialita Sathiyamoorthy (Perak) and Ahmad Ihdhar Kamaludin (Sarawak) went head-to-head in the state finals.
Perak-born Ahmad Ihdhar, who returned from Sarawak last September, emerged as Perak’s new spelling champion.
“I was really happy with how I did because I hadn’t expected to win a state title again,” says the fifth-former from SMK St Michael’s Institution.
“I was worried about entering as a former state champion but this is my last chance to do so as it’s my final year of school,” he adds.
Sancialita, who had to settle for second place, is all right with her performance as she had found the words harder this year.
“I’ll just have to start preparing earlier for next year.
“Hopefully I’ll do better,” says the third-former from SMK Tarcisian Convent.
Darren Leong Wei Jin — last year’s Perak primary winner and national primary champion — joined the secondary challenge for the first time last weekend.
Unfortunately, he did not make it past the preliminaries — he had stumbled on “corm” in a tiebreaker round.
“He had been anxious about being the first student in the first group to go in front of the judges.
“But he is not too disappointed as he has four more years to enter SIR,” says his mother Yvonne Ng Mei Ooi.
Darren’s older brother Derek Leong Wei Jian had better luck, though.
Derek had competed in 2009 and last year but did not make it past the preliminaries.
This time round, the 15-year-old came in fourth.
The Leong family — comprising the two brothers and their parents Ng and Andrew Leong Seong Heong — are familiar faces in SIR circles.
Last year the four travelled to the rounds in Negri Sembilan, Penang and Selangor to note down words at the primary and secondary levels.
A love of the SIR Challenge is what drives them, Ng explains. She adds that they hope to make similar jaunts this year.
Tan Su Sanne, a fourth-former from SMK Convent Taiping, is also a SIR veteran — she took part in 2008, 2010 and last year and came in second in the primary and secondary categories in the first and third seasons.
Despite the competition getting tougher each year, she intends to come back next year as she enjoys the challenge.
Alexander Woo Khai Feng, who had won the Perak state primary title in 2009 as a precocious 12-year-old, looked decidedly more sober this time round.
As a first-former in 2010, he had entertained the audience with his onstage antics while locked in several tiebreaker rounds with eventual third place winner Amir Farid Aminuddin from Malay College Kuala Kangsar.
Responding to comments about his calmer behaviour this year, he says: “I was actually intending to jump on the stage or do something crazy if I had made it to the state finals but the opportunity didn’t come up.”
He says the competition was intense with the presence of many great contestants and the words getting increasingly tougher.
“I will be back next year. I don’t know about others, but I like how the atmosphere at the challenge makes me want to improve my own spelling ability,” he adds.
At the Pahang state event, preparing himself for the SIR Challenge launch appeared to have cost 13-year-old Ahmad Suhail Ahmad Nizam — Pahang’s 2010 primary champion — dearly.
He had spent a day memorising the spelling for the longest word ever to appear in an English dictionary — “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” — for the launch which signalled the start of the season.
Before his turn at the secondary contest, he kept himself busy walking around and chatting with people.
“I couldn’t sit still as I was nervous about going onstage as a secondary contestant,” he says.
The first-former of SM Abu Bakar had wanted to enter the contest this year for the experience but hopes to come back to the national stage
Though he did not expect to win the secondary title, he had hoped to go further than he did.
He was knocked out of the contest when he missed his first word — “assimilation” — by a single letter.
Nurul Nadiah Nordin — who had won the Pahang secondary title in 2008 and last year — was a picture of calm among the audience at the Pahang state competition.
The 18-year-old had come as a spectator, after all.
“My old school (SMK Abdul Rahman Talib) was competing and I went to support it.
“I also accompanied my mum who had brought her students to the contest,” says Nurul, who will be pursuing a pre-university course at a private college in July.