Q-U-I-N-T-O. That’s how you spell the Spanish word fifth and the ranking Nicholas Blas, an incoming seventh grader at Travis Middle School, earned in the National Spanish Spelling Bee last month.

“I’m happy that I am fifth in the country,” he says. “It makes me feel really good about myself.”

En route to the top five finish, Blas hammered through close to 20 rounds of competition and bested 11 of the 15 other competitors from as far as New York. The contest spanned four hours in a virtual format on a Saturday. 

“I am so proud,” says his mother, Claudia Esquivel. “All of the competitors at this level are winners. Getting to this point is so impressive.”

Blas’s journey to national success began by winning a school-wide spelling bee in early January. He then won the district’s first ever Spanish spelling bee later that month to advance to the regional spelling bee, held in May. His gold finish there earned him a ticket to the national competition.

“He surprised me,” says his mom. “The fact that he did this in Spanish was surprising because his primary language is English. But he had a great support system in his teacher, Mr. [Tomas] Serrano. He’s the one who told him he could do this, that he was going to win.”

In addition to the encouragement from his teacher, Blas also credits his mother, who helped him study and prepare for each contest.

“We had time set aside each day to go over words,” he says. “Mr. Serrano gave me words to work on and helped me with accents, and my mom helped me practice.”

His mother also encouraged him to read books in Spanish so that he could learn more words. Both admit that it was sometimes difficult to find the motivation to study after school let out for summer.

“But I would remind him that we were committed so he needed to prepare. We had to practice,” says Esquivel. “So we had set times that we would get some practice in.”

And the practice paid off. Now, he’s looking forward to enjoying the rest of his summer playing video games and basking in the feeling of accomplishment. 

“It was really fun to win,” he says.