SECAUCUS — Most people probably don’t know the definitions of words such as “embarcadero,” a noun describing the landing place on an inland waterway, or “flautino,” a small flute, let alone know how to spell them.

But 11-year-old Naomi Castallanos does, and she can do it in front of a large audience to top it off.

Naomi was among 47 young spellers from all over Hudson County who put their abilities to the test on Saturday during the 58th annual Jersey Journal-Hudson County Spelling Bee at the Arthur F. Couch Performing Arts Center in Secaucus.

After three hours and 16 rounds of spelling and vocabulary questions, Naomi, a sixth-grader at the Franklin Elementary School in North Bergen, walked away the victor. 

“It feels amazing,” Naomi said, surrounded by a group of. ecstatic family members all wearing “Team Naomi” T-shirts emblazoned with a bee. “I want to dedicate this to my supporting family because they really helped me feel confident and get through (the competition).”

Trophy in hand, Naomi told The Jersey Journal that she studied very hard with the help of her mother and sister, a fifth-grader at Franklin School who was the runner-up of the school bee that sent Naomi to the county stage.

“I was very nervous,” Naomi added. “And I thought I didn’t have a chance of winning until I finally made it (to the last round).”

Naomi will take an expenses-paid trip — courtesy of Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise — to National Harbor, Maryland, to represent Hudson County in the Scripps National Spelling Bee this spring, and her family will be coming along with her as well. 

Naomi won after correctly spelling “meagerie” — a collection of wild or foreign animals in cages or enclosures — but the tension was high beforehand.

Second-place winner Surmai Agrawal, from the Cornelia F. Bradford School in Jersey City — after incorrectly spelling “estrepe” — was given a second chance after Naomi spelled “simoniacal” incorrectly as well.

But after fifth-grader Surmai stumbled on “cinephile” — a noun defined as a devotee of motion pictures — Naomi came back and correctly spelled “flautino” and “menagerie” in a row to win the title.

The bee, organized and directed by The Jersey Journal, was presented by AAA North Jersey and sponsored by the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, which serves as the liaison to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Clifford Brooks, a librarian at Hudson County College and graduate of Georgetown University, served as the pronouncer for the bee.

Also at the officials table was Margaret Schmidt, Jersey Journal editor and chief judge; Ellen Wayman-Gordon, assistant Vice President for University Advancement at New Jersey City University; Koren Frankfort, deputy director of the Hudson County Office of Cultural Affairs; and Stephen Rajczyk, manager of public and government services for AAA North Jersey.

Jersey Journal Night Editor Harvey Zucker served as Spelling Bee Director.

Before the competition began, Jersey Journal Publisher David Blomquist recognized the efforts of all the participants.

“Whether you leave today the champion, or eliminated in the first round,” he said, “please know your parents, friends, and all of us know that each of you are full of promise and are headed for great things.”


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