Bee the best

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    The field, including (not in order) Dylan Takata, Luke Gandeza, Kale Kakuda, Zachary Ing, Mar Ruiz, Ocean Amador, Mary Ruth Victor, Rain Hannsz, Rayven Joy Raza, runner-up Dylan Watanabe, Casey “Kanoe” Dusenberry and winner Keaupuni Miyake are congratulated by state Department of Education Kauai Complex Area Superintendent William Arakaki, back right, Thursday during the Kauai Spelling Bee at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Kauai Spelling Bee runner-up Dylan Watanabe, left, and winner Keaupuni Miyake, center, are congratulated by state Department of Education Kauai Complex Area Superintendent William Arakaki Thursday night at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    St. Theresa School student Keaupuni Miyake reacts to the judges’ “word right” sign to win the Kauai Spelling Bee Thursday night at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi.

Dylan Watanabe struggled with the “o” and “i” in “incorruptible,” and Keaupuni Miyake smiled Thursday night at the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School cafeteria.

The choice triggered the dreaded ding, and Miyake awaited his word — “albatross.”

“I knew that word,” Miyake said. “But I asked for the definition just to be sure. When ‘hazard’ came up, I just spelled it out.”

The surprise win came in Round 11 when the field was whittled from four to two in the Kauai Complex Area Spelling Bee presented by the Department of Education. Mar Ruiz of Waimea Canyon Middle School tripped on “canasta,” and Matthew Gabriel looked for the confection in “praline,” both sounding the bell that resulted in a tie for third place in Round 10.

“There were a lot of words that I knew I would have trouble with while I was practicing,” Miyake said. “When I heard them being announced to the other spellers, I was relieved.”

Sixteen students representing eight Kauai elementary and intermediate schools opened the evening on stage before an audience of nearly 150 parents, school officials, and friends. The field whizzed through Round 1 unscathed before three casualties in Round 2 — victims of “hundredth,” “errand,” and “dissect.”

“These kids are amazing,” said Bryan Miyake, father of the spelling bee champion. “I would have gone down in the first round.”

Dylan Takata of Elsie Wilcox Elementary School tripped up on “nostril,” and “cameo” claimed Luke Gandeza of the host Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

Ikaika Alapai-Gutierrez of the Hanalei School looked for “loam” while Kale Kakuda’s “rehearse” dropped to a near-whisper to trigger the bell.

Ocean Amador of Kilauea School triggered laughter in the practice round when she said “C-A-T, cat” instead of spelling “homonym.” It came back to scratch her in Round 4 when the same word came up in the real round and she misspelled it.

The “polymer” in Round 5 claimed Rayven Joy Raza of Kapaa Middle School ahead of a clean Round 6 where Miyake slowly mouthed “b-e-v-e-l.”

Zachary Ing of Island School tripped up on “worrisome” ahead of another casualty-free Round 8 before Kekainalu Geer of Hanalei School was claimed by a “hyphen” to set up the final four.

With the field whittled to two following the tie for third place, Watanabe, a student at Island School, and Miyake, a student at St. Theresa School, will advance to Oahu where they will participate in the state spelling bee presented by Kama‘aina Kids on March 8.

Keapuni, called “Puni” by his friends and family, did not make the district bee last year after finishing third at the school’s bee, his mother said.

“But he finished first in the second and third grades,” she said. “He couldn’t come to the district bee at that time because he was too young. Now, he’s going to the state spelling bee.”

Pua Cobb-Adams, Dylan Watanabe’s sister, was among the family that poured congratulations and lei around the runner-up who will be representing Kauai at the state bee.

“I won the Kauai district spelling bee 22 years ago,” Cobb-Adams said. “I went on to finish third at the state bee. I can’t sleep now because I can’t remember the word I won with. But I remember ‘malleable.’ That’s the word I misspelled the year before when I was runner up.”

Judge Kathleen Watanabe, Dylan’s mother, said Dylan thought he was through studying.

“Now, he has to keep studying because he’s going to states,” she said. “And he still has to work on his projects for the Kauai Science Olympiad coming up Saturday.”


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or


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