Cooperstown seventh-grader wins spelling bee

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarCooperstown’s Punya Phaugat reacts Saturday, March 7, as she wins The Daily Star Scripps National Regional Spelling Bee at SUNY Oneonta.

 ONEONTA — Cooperstown seventh grader Punya Phaugat was named champion of The Daily Star’s 18th annual regional spelling bee Saturday, March 7.

Students from 18 component districts of Otsego-Northern Catskills and Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES took the stage in SUNY Oneonta’s Goodrich Theater, spelling dozens of words until Punya was named champion after correctly spelling “turnstile.”

First-runner up was Stamford Central School eighth-grader Jack Glenn, who kept pace with Punya for several rounds after everyone else was eliminated before misspelling “irradiate.”

Three-time former regional champion Melodia Loya of Bainbridge returned to the stage as a guest competitor in the celebrity competition, winning with the correct spelling of the word “dacquoise,” a French dessert cake.

Loya delivered her final performance at the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making it to the seventh round before misspelling “theileriasis.”

Cheering Punya on were her parents, Yogesh and Kusum, and her seven-year-old brother, Vedant.

Punya, who has competed in spelling competitions since fifth grade, said she studied with her father for an hour and a half on weekdays and three hours on weekends.

“We’re really excited,” Cooperstown Superintendent Bill Crankshaw said of Punya’s victory. “We’ll certainly find a way to celebrate her accomplishment.”

“She’s very dedicated to her academics,” he said. “We take such pride in her ability to spell. It’s her passion.”

Punya said her favorite subject in school is math, and when she’s not studying her spelling, she enjoys swimming freestyle on the Cooperstown swim team.

Punya will advance to the 2020 Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland, this spring. The Daily Star will follow her progress throughout the competition and, along with other local sponsors, will cover the round-trip transportation and overnight costs for the champion and an adult chaperone to attend.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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