(NEW YORK) — This year, 285 precocious kids ages 6 to 15 will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the trophy and $40,000 in cash, among other prizes.
The finals, airing Thursday on ESPN, have historically been a source of great entertainment and fierce orthographic competition. Here is a look back at some of the most buzzworthy moments in spelling bee history and a look at where these standout contestants are now.
1997: Rebecca Sealfon Spelling “Euonym”
Who could forget the pure excitement of 13-year-old Rebecca Sealfon, who even before she officially became the 1997 champion, shouted the six letters of “euonym”(a name well suited to a person, place or thing), her excitement growing with each letter. She spelled the word correctly and was declared the champion.
Sealfon could not immediately be reached for comment, but a few years ago she told New York Public Radio that she attended Princeton University for her undergraduate degree and then earned two masters degrees from Duke University and Columbia University.
2004: Akshay Buddiga Spelling “Alopecoid”
There was drama onstage in 2004 when Akshay Buddiga fainted, recovered and jumped back to his feet, spelling “alopecoid” (foxlike) perfectly. Buddiga did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment, and has kept mostly out of the national spotlight. The video of Buddiga fainting shows the pressure that some of these kids are under and has garnered more than 180,000 views on YouTube.
2007: Kennyi Aouad Spelling “Sardoodledom”
Kennyi Aouad could not control his laughter when he was asked to spell the entertaining noun “sardoodledom” (melodrama). The laughter proved contagious, and soon he had everyone in the crowd laughing with him.
Aouad told ABC News today that being in the spelling bee “inspired a drive to compete and do my best.” He is now a chemistry major at Carleton College in Minnesota.
2008: Sameer Mishra Spelling “Numnah”
Sameer Mishra’s reaction upon hearing what he thought was “numnuts” entertained the crowd, as did his relief when he realized it was actually “numnah”(a felt or sheepskin pad placed between a horse’s back and the saddle to prevent chafing).
Mishra, who just graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics and statistics, told ABC News that the spelling bee taught him a lot not just in spelling but also in life. “One of the big things I took away from that was that if you set a goal, you can achieve that goal.” He said the work ethic required to compete in the bee proved very valuable later in life.
He competed nationally four years in a row. He said, “My last year, I would just go through the entire dictionary and find words that I didn’t know and write them down and make my own dictionary.”
The attention after winning in 2008 helped Mishra to come out of his shell.
“You had a lot of people at the grocery store and in your town who just want to talk to you, and you have to figure out how to talk to people,” he said. “I was a shy, bookish type of kid. All that attention was pretty incredible.”
Mishra will be back at the spelling bee this year, live-tweeting the event.
2009: Andrew Lay Spelling “Negus”
The anxiety of Andrew Lay, 12 at the time, was palpable when he was asked to spell “negus” (a king, used as a title of the sovereign of Ethiopia).
Lay, cringing and sounding it out, and seemed to surprise everyone, including himself, when he spelled the word correctly. Lay did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment, but video of the North Carolina native’s stint in the spelling bee, and his joyful surprise upon spelling “negus” correctly, has gone viral, gaining over 20 million views on YouTube.
2013: Arvind Mahankali Winning the Bee
After two consecutive third-place finishes, Arvind Mahankali took home the championship after spelling “knaidel,” a type of Jewish dumpling. Mahankali remained calm and collected as confetti rained down on him, showing no outward signs of emotion. Mahankali is still in high school, and his family did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. He told ABC News’ Good Morning America in 2013, “At that time it didn’t register that I’d won,” explaining why he did not seem to show any excitement as the confetti rained down around him.
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