PETALING JAYA: Amirul Fitri Zainol Abidin and Wong Li Chin had plenty to smile about at the secondary category of the RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right Challenge yesterday.
The two SIR 2010 Selangor and Johor state champions not only defended their state titles but did so without tripping up on a single word.
Amirul Fitri, 16, of Program Pendidikan Menengah Tinggi Permata Pintar UKM, retained his crown when he correctly spelled all his final round words -- "drupe", "rasbora" and "bacillosis".
Studying the etymology of words is his secret to success.
"I looked up the prefixes, suffixes and root words of terms that I came across.
"Knowing this makes spelling easier, especially for medical terms," said Amirul Fitri, who beat 239 other hopefuls at the Selangor competition.
Aside from the RM3,000 prize and plaque, Amirul Fitri will represent his state at the National Challenge on July 16 in Kuala Lumpur, where he hopes to improve on his performance last year. He won third place at last year's national finals.
Wong, who was placed fourth in the national finals last year, sailed through the Johor competition yesterday to emerge state spelling champ.
She took home the top prize of RM3,000, a plaque and the honour of representing her state at the national challenge.
She had correctly spelled "quirt", "taffrail" and "rubidium" in the finals to keep her crown.
Like Amirul Fitri, she was the only one of 15 state finalists able to correctly spell all the words in her final round.
Her competition experience from last year had helped but it was the extensive reading that led her to victory.
"I memorised and read a lot as well as used and spelled the funny words I found in the dictionary," said the fifth-former who aspires to be a doctor and intends to save her prize money for college.
She added that she could not have made it this far if not for the support and encouragement of her family, friends and teachers.
Wong is relieved the state challenge is over and has only one immediate goal -- "to get some sleep!".
In Selangor, winning second place was bittersweet for Nicola Anne De Bruyne Choon Ming Wey, 17, from SMK Assunta as she had aimed to represent her state.
"However, I am happy to have improved from last year," said Choon, who had come in fourth at last year's state challenge. For her second placing this year, she walked away with RM2,500 and a plaque.
Third-place winner Atikah Adzhar of SMK Taman Desa Dua was jubilant that her hard work had paid off this time.
"I make it a habit to refer to the dictionary every time I come across an unfamiliar word instead of leaving it to the last minute," said Atikah, who was also a finalist last year.
She attributed her win to her newfound confidence.
"Before, I was so nervous that I misspelt the words, but not anymore," said Atikah who walked away with RM2,000 and a plaque.
Taking risks proved to be fruitful for Kan Wai Min of SMK Hulu Kelang.
The fifth-former managed a fourth placing and a RM1,500 cash prize and plaque in his first ever -- and, regretfully, final -- showing in the contest.
"It's just my luck that I reached the top five. I didn't try out in previous years because I didn't know if I was good enough. Now I realize that sometimes in life, you have to take chances," said Kan.
Pint-sized Adelina Zulkifli of SMK (P) Sri Aman, who came in fifth, is extremely happy with her achievement.
"My participation in spelling bees at school level has increased my confidence and that's what helped me in this competition," said Adelina, who won RM1,000 and a plaque.
In Johor, Nur Yasmin Ahmad Rizal, 15, from Sekolah Tun Fatimah took home the RM2,500 second prize and a plaque, while Michael Ho Poon Yew, 16, from Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar won the third prize of RM2,000 and a plaque.
Nathanael Devakumar Murugiah, 15, from SMK Sultan Ismail won RM1,500 and a plaque for coming in fourth, while Nur Azhani Nadzri, 16, from SMK Taman Seri Saujana took home RM1,000 and a plaque for her fifth placing.
Nur Yasmin, who had won fifth placing last year, is happy with her improved standing this year.
Ho, a first-time contestant, did not expect to get very far because he had not even opened a dictionary to prepare for the contest.
"I was busy organising an event the day before the competition," he said, adding he had not decided whether to save his prize money or splurge it on a new computer.
Though tough, Ho thinks he lucked out on getting some of the "easier" words. He hopes to have another crack at the state title next year.
A total of 197 students from schools around Johor vied for the state title yesterday.
McDonald's Malaysia provided the participants with lunch at both venues.
The SIR Challenge continues on April 23 and 24 at Kuantan Parade, Kuantan, and Mahkota Parade in Malacca.