If ever there was any doubt that during the past few years, Indian American kids have come to virtually own the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee competition, it was erased with a vengeance on Thursday morning when of the 11 championship finalists, seven or more than 60 percent were Indian Americans, belonging to a minority population that is less than one percent of the total US population.
The day started with 41 spellers in the semi-finals, of which 14 were Indian Americans, and when the fourth and final semi-final round was completed, the Indian-American dominance was amply manifest with seven spellers surviving to make their bid in the finals which will be telecast at prime time by ABC with Tom Bergeron, the host of Dancing With the Stars, returning to host the 82nd Scripps National Spelling Bee.
And, among the seven in the championship finals, were Siddarth Chand,13, of Beverly Hills, Michigan and Kavya Shivashankar, also 13,of Olathe, Kansas, both eighth grade students and each of whom were strongly tipped to capture the title and make history repeat itself and ensure a third back-to-back taking of the championship by an Indian American, after Sameer Mishra became last year's top speller.
Chand finished second last year, and Shivashankar, who has finished among the top 10 for the last three years, tied for the fourth place last year, and in her fourth and final appearance this year, was a crowd favorite for the gold trophy and the cash prize of $35,000, in addition to several other prizes.
After surviving the fifth semi-final round, which Shivashankar earlier called "the killer-round" in this competition and where this year 20 spellers were eliminated, she assured herself of a finalist slot and a shot at the title by breezing through by correctly spelling 'escritoire.'
Chand, did the same, correctly slam-dunking the word 'unakile.'
The other Indian-American kids who advanced to the finals, were Ramya Auropren of San Jose, California, spelling 'senryu,' Aishwarya Eshwar Pastapur of Chatham,Illinois, with 'foundroyant,' Tussah Heera of Las Vegas, Nevada, making short work of the Sankrit to Bengali word 'talipot,' even though she did not speak either of these dialects, Neetu Chandak of Seneca Falls, New York, with 'dauerlauf,' and Anamika Veeramni of Parma Heights, Ohio, having no problem with 'fedelini.'
Felled by 'nisus' in the fourth round were Avvinash Radhakrishnan of Merrimack, New Hampshire, Sukanya Roy of Newton Ransom, Pennsylvania by 'piqueur,' and Aditya Chemudupaty of Pearland, Texas, by 'grenache.'
As the misspellers were seen dejectedly walking away from the stage when the bell rang indicating an incorrect spelling, the winner were seen walking back to their chairs giving high-fives to their compatriots as the parents and sibling either agonized or punched the air in elation.
Way back in 1985, Balu Natarajan, today a physician specializing in sports medicine, was the first Indian American to win the title, and thereafter including last year's winner Mishra, eight Indian American have won the championship. Among them, back-to-back title winners were Nupur Lala and George Abraham Thampy in 1999 and 2000 respectively and Pratyush Buddiga and Sai R Gunturi in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Other winners were Ragashree Ramachandran in 1988 and Anurag Kashyap in 2005.