For the first time after six years, we are not watching the National Spelling Bee live. All of the regional spelling champions are buzzing in National Harbor this Memorial Day week for this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Spelling bees are very unforgiving to say the least (more specifically when concerning the post preliminary phases of the competition). If I understand correctly, there is room to make a mistake or two in Geography Bees, Math Competitions, and even Brain Bees – just not in Spelling Bees. If you have been following or have followed spelling bees, you already know that it is very unpredictable. A mere juxtaposition, omission, or addition of one letter is all it takes to knock a speller out of the competition. Therefore, it is hard to predict the outcome of the elimination rounds with a higher degree of confidence.
Consequently, I have a reason to be reticent in picking a speller or two to win the championship. Let’s start with Kavya, who was one of the favorites in 2008. One extra ‘e’ at the end of ecrase eliminated her from the competition that year. I am sure most readers/spellers know about clevis, the word that ended the ornate spelling bee career of Samir Patel, the best of the best spellers. Some of you may not know Erik Zyman Carrasco, but he was a favorite to win the competition in 2004 after his remarkable performance in 2003. Gomorrah saw an early exit for Erik that year. Other words that have trumped some of the best spellers of their time are LEFSE, ROSCIAN, SECERNENT, CILICE, GNATHONIC, GESTALDO…
I can only cautiously say that a good number of spellers from this list will also make it to the finals. I can, however, practically guarantee that the spellers listed below will make it past the preliminary phase of the competition to make the semi-finalists cut.
Laura Newcombe (Speller Number 24) – No stranger to the bee, Laura is returning to the bee as a three-timer and as one of the two highest ranked returning 2010 finalists. Laura tied for 17th in 2009 and tied for 5th place in 2010. Laura is also a three time Canadian Spelling Bee champion. Even prior to her spelling debut, Laura watched her sister, Leslie, spell on the national stage in 2006. Last year, Laura survived scrannel (Paul Loeffler, ESPN analyst, termed this word as ‘treacherous’) in the semifinals, but was tripped up by confiserie in the finals. This is her last year of eligibility, but could become the first Canadian to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee if she is the last one standing on the big stage. The last time someone from outside the nation was crowned the Scripps National Spelling Bee champion was in 1998, when Jody-Anne Maxwell from Kingston, Jamaica correctly spelled chiaroscurist to hoist the coveted trophy.
Veronica Penny (Speller Number 25) – Veronica is coming back to the national scene for her third time, but after a brief hiatus. Last year, Canada was represented by just one speller, compared to the 20+ Canadian spellers who represented their nation in the previous two years, a situation which may have prevented Veronica from being at the 2010 Scripps National Spelling. This year, there are three Canadian representatives at the Scripps National Spelling Bee as opposed to just Laura Newcombe in 2010. Veronica was runner-up to Laura at the 2011 Canadian National Spelling Bee. Veronica had an impressive performance on ESPN in 2009, and I am sure she will be on the semi-finalist list this year as well. Watch for her unique style of spelling on stage – she covers up her face and forehead with both palms before spelling and it will be interesting to see if she will continue that technique or any modified version of it.
Rahul Malayappan (Speller Number 30): This is Rahul’s fourth year at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It was very unfortunate to see him miss out on the word paracusia in the semifinal round in 2010 after confirming the root akousis meaning hearing. There is no doubt that he is going to do much better than last year, and he is definitely one to watch. He appears to have worked hard to prepare for this year’s event and what I like the best about him is his cool demeanor. He says that he is not nervous at all, which he demonstrates with his unperturbed and composed conduct. If he does not win it all this year, he will still have another year of eligibility.
Grace Remmer (Speller Number 38) – What a performance in her first appearance at the 2010 National Spelling Bee! After misspelling jehu in the round prior to the first round of the Finals, Grace tied for 9th. Grace is still a 6th grader and has a couple more opportunities to strike gold.
Emily Keaton (Speller Number 93) – Emily is another third timer from Kentucky. She tied for 20th in the bee last year after replacing the ‘z’ in fazenda with an ‘s’. She is yet another one to watch this year, even with two more years of eligibility remaining.
Sriram Hathwar (Speller Number 152) – Historically, veteran spellers who have not qualified one year after a visit or two to the national event have shown resiliency in their return. Such spellers have typically fared well at the national spelling bee during their reappearance. Sriram made it past the preliminary rounds in 2009 and impressed the crowd. This is will be his third time at the national bee despite being a mere fifth grader. With three more years of eligibility left, he is a force to reckon with.
Arvind Mahankali (Speller Number 157) – Arvind made a very strong impression in his first appearance at the National Spelling Bee in 2010. He was the last person to spell on ESPN and ultimately tied for 9th. He misspelled presa, a Latin-derived Italian word meaning ‘a mark or cue’.
Nicholas Rushlow (Speller Number 188) – It was heart-breaking to see Nicholas miss out early in the semifinals last year. He is a very strong contender to win the championship this year but will still have another of eligibility if he doesn’t win it all. I don’t think there is going be any French-derived word that will trump him at this year’s bee after he missed out on devant during the last year’s semifinals. If he wins this year, he would be the second champion in a row for the state of Ohio. Ohio has had the most number of spelling champions – Anamika Veeramani was the 9th winner from this state.
Joanna Z. Ye (Speller Number 206) – Joanna missed the word tailleur in the finals and placed 5th in the 2010 Spelling Bee. She is the other highest ranked returning 2010 finalist.
Sukanya Roy (Speller Number 214) – This is Sukanya’s third and final year at the National Spelling Bee. She has improved every year and has also won the NSF National Spelling Bee championship in 2010. Will this be her year at Scripps?
Julianna Canabal (Speller Number 215) – This is Julianna’s fourth trip back to the DC area. Traveling all the way from Puerto Rico, she strives to make her homeland proud. She has steadily progressed in her rankings at the Bee and she tied for 9th last year. She is a strong contender for this year’s bee.
Also keep an eye out for…
David Phan Speller Number 28 – David, currently an eighth grader, is yet another three-timer. Eliminated from the bee during the semi-finals last year, David placed 33rd. The word that got him out was bilophodont. I am not sure why he replaced the second ‘o’ with a ‘y’ while spelling, but he will certainly be in the group of semifinalists this year as someone to watch.
Julia Dennis (Speller Number 49) – Julia added an extra ‘e’ at the end of poilu during last year’s semifinals. I distinctly remember Julia because of her professional appearance – she was clad in her school uniform. This will be her last chance to win the national event.
I invite the readers to respond with comments on their favorite spellers at the 2011 National Spelling Bee. Kavya and I will be adding more posts as the competition progresses.