Sameer Mishra, 13, of West Lafayette, Indiana, won the 81st Scripps National Spelling Bee, correctly spelling 'guerdon,' which means something one has earned or gained, a reward. With his win, Indian American children, who had such a bad spell last year, came roaring back at this year's annual 81st Bee.
Mishra, an eighth-grader at West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School, is appearing in the competition for the fourth time. He took home the championship trophyan engraved loving cup from Scrippsa $30,000 cash prize, a $2,500 US Savings Bond and a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster, a $5,000 cash prize from Sigma Psi Epsilon Educational Foundation, and reference works valued at more than $3,800 from Enclycopedia Britannica.
In second place was Siddharth Chand, 12, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who was making his debut and went toe-to-toe with Mishra in the 12th,13th, and 14th rounds, till he was felled by the world 'prosopopoeia' which he misspelled as 'prosopopoea.'
Chand takes home $12,500 as the second place winner, in addition to several other prizes too like the complete reference library and works from both Merriam-Webster and Encylopedia Britannica.
Last year, only one Indian American kid, Prateek Kohli, then 13, an eighth-grader from New York, entered the final round. But he was felled by the word 'oberek', spelling it 'oberok.'
This year, there were four Indian American children among the final 12 contestants from the record number of 288 regional champions. The participants converged on Washington, DC and participated over two days at the Independence Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Eight-year-old Sriram Jagdeesh Hathwar, from Painted Post, New York, was the youngest contestant in the history of the Bee. However, the second-grader at the Chemung Valley Monstessori School met his waterloo early in the competition.
Besides, Mishra and Chand, the Indian American children who made up the final dozen, were Kavya Shivashankar, 12, of Olathe, Kansas. This was the third appearance of the seventh-grader from the California Trail Junior High School.
Jahnnavi Iyer,14, of Enola, Pennsylvania, an eighth-grader at the Eagle View Middle School, made her debut this year.
Shivashankar, who was a favourite to win, was eliminated in the 11th round when she misspelled 'ecrase' as 'escrasee'.
Iyer was eliminated in the earlier round, when she misspelled 'parfleche' as 'parfles.'
Three years ago, Indian American children, in their best year ever, claimed the top four places at the event. Anurag Kashyap. Aliya Deri, Samir Patel and Rajiv Tarigopula finished in the top four places in the 2005 Bee.
The performance of Indian American children was equally impressive in earlier years.
In 1999, Nupur Lala took the title, with George Thampy winning it the next year. In 2002, Pratyush Buddhiga won the trophy and it was the turn of Sai Gunturi to do so in 2003. In 2004, Pratyush's brother was a runner-up.
India Abroad, the largest-circulating newspaper in the United States, published in five editions across the country and owned by rediff.com, was so taken by the performance of the Indian American children in 2005, that if flew in Anurag, Sameer, and Rajeev and their parents to New York to present a Publisher's Special Award during the 2005 India Abroad Person of the Year event.
The Bee is the nation's largest and longest-running educational promotion, administered on a not-for-profit basis by the E W Scripps Company and backed by 280 sponsors in the United States, American Samoa, the Bahamas, Canada, Europe, Ghana, Guam, Jamaica, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the US Virgin Islands.
The programme is open to students who have reached their 15th birthday on or before September 1, 2007, who have not passed beyond eighth grade on or before February 1, 2008, and who attend schools that enrolled for participation during the 2007-2008 academic year.
The competition has acquired such a high profile in recent years that it has inspired movies and Broadway plays and ESPN has been broadcasting it live for the past several years. Last year, the network ABC began broadcasting the final rounds live at prime time at 8 pm.
This year, the network also brought in as emcee, the co-host of the popular ABC's Dancing with the Stars show and veteran of several game shows Tom Bergeron, who declared at the outset, "If you thought dancing on live TV is tough, try spelling."