OXON HILL – Karthik Nemmani, 14, from Dallas, Texas, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee against more than 500 other spellers on Thursday, May 31 in Oxon Hill.
“Honestly, his work ethic and his passion and his thirst to learn is what makes him special,” said Grace Walters, Nemmani’s spelling coach. “He’s so wonderful.”
After correctly spelling the word “Koinonia,” Nemmani took home a trophy, a cash prize totaling $42,500 and a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster. He also received a free trip to New York to be on “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” a trip to Los Angeles to be on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and a pizza party for his school.
Nemmani was up against the most spellers Scripps has had in its history, an increase of 228 kids. The finals consisted of fifteen other spellers of ages ranging from 11 to 14, including runner-up Naysa Modi, 12, also from Dallas, Texas, 11-year-old Abhijay Kodali and 14-year-old Paul Hamrick.
The entire competition, which took place at the Gaylord Convention Center at the National Harbor, lasted for three days with the finals being broadcasted live on ESPN on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. This was the 97th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee and the 25th year of it being televised on ESPN.
“I was pretty nervous, but I kept my cool through all of it,” Nemmani said.
Since September, he has been working with Walters, who has trained four other spellers as well as last year’s first runner-up Rohan Rajim.
“He lives in Dallas, and I live just north of Houston,” Walters said. “We video called twice a week to practice face-to-face, but we also communicated almost every day over Google messages to discuss words and origins and discuss vocab and other things.”
This year, Scripps competition was able to increase its number of participants by the RSVBee program significantly. RSVBee was launched this year as a way to improve fairness among spellers allowing more kids from highly competitive areas, such as Dallas, Texas, or kids who may not have sponsors, to enter the competition. Nemmani was one of 241 spellers from the RSVBee program.
“Our mission is to do well by doing good,” said Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson. “The Bee is one of the finest examples of our mission and outlet.”
Pronouncer Jaques Bailly read off words for the competitors such as “arrhostia,” “praxitelean,” and “ceinture.” As the competition wore on, the words got increasingly tricky with words like “lophophytosis,” “ankyloglossia,” and “pseudepigrapha.” Words like “philonium,” “gelinotte,” and “fourrier” got people eliminated.
“It makes me want to work hard so I can try again next year,” said Caitlyn Pooler, 13, who made it to the preliminaries.
It was an excellent time for audience members to be in a live setting and try to spell the words along with the contestants.
“The kids are so impressive,” said Melissa Stewart, an audience member who runs a regional spelling bee in New York. “There’s a little more tension when you’re watching it live when you’re sitting in the audience and have no idea how to spell any of the words.”
The contestants had their own strategies of remembering how to spell the words such as various hand movements and asking for information such as the definition, language of origin, and alternate pronunciations of the words. There were short video clips shown of each speller of what they do outside of the competition to cope with stress or to just have fun. Spelling bee participant Tara Singh likes to unwind with archery as a focus exercise, and fellow speller Naysa Modi has been doing stand up comedy since she was six.
Nemmani has been training and competing in spelling bees for the past six years in preparation for this moment, said his father Krishna Nemmani. Karthik has worked hard every day and both his mother and father were confident that he would win.
“It felt surreal,” Nemmani said after he won the Bee. “It was amazing.”