Indian-Americans Shone Again At Spelling Bee

Competitors (Courtesy:

Along with Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion Karthik Nemmani, speller No. 471, an 8th grader from McKinney, Texas, several other Indian-Americans shone at rigorous competition held in Washington, D.C. ending May 31. And they have done so for many years now, so-much-so, that it is almost a ‘hohum’ moment when they win the top spots, a tribute to their accomplishment. This correspondent failed miserably trying to ‘Play Along’ with the spellers unable to choose from the multiple options Scripps offered on its website during the contest

Karthik was among numerous Indian origin kids who dominated the contest from the beginning. The breadth of the competition is obvious from the fact that more than 11 million students take part in it. There were 21 Indian-Americans out of 41 who made it to the final days of the gruelling contest. Karthik’s cousin Sri Nemmani, who was also a speller this year, is quoted on the Spelling Bee blog saying, “I knew he was going to win. He studied for hours and hours and hours, countless hours.”

On the crowning night there were 11 Indian-Americans among the 16.

The 11 Indian-American “Primetime” finalists were No. 484 – Abhijay Kodali; 471 – Karthik Nemmani; 460 – Rohan Raja; 447 -Naysa Modi ; 315 – Sravanth Malla; 290 – Shruthika Padhy; 279 – Navneeth Murali; 192 – Jashun Paluru ; 133 -Tara Singh; 80 – Anisha Rao ; and 50 – Aisha Randhawa.

Karthik had to battle with several kids from his own community, including 20 rounds with Naysa Modi in their local bee, before he could make it to the top in D.C.

It’s the thrill of the race, not only the prize of $40,000, plus other goodies, including a Pizza Hut all-expense-paid party, that attracts these kids, many of whom probably went through the South Asian Spelling Bee which has become a testing ground for them.

A look at the winning words since 1925 when the competition began, makes obvious the fact that the words get tougher as competitors increase; and that Indian-Americans began winning as far back as 1985, when Balu Natarajan, now a sports physician whose son was in this year’s Bee, won the competition on the word ‘milieu.’ There was a 10-year gap from 1988 to 1998, when no Indian- American won. But then it was off to the races.

Indian-American winners, and crowning words, at Scripps National Spelling Bee (Courtesy: Wikipedia):

  • 1985 – Balu Natarajan – milieu
  • 1988 – Ragashree Ramachandran – elegiacal
  • 1999 – Nupur Lala – Logorrhea
  • 2000 – George Thampy – demarche
  • 2002 – Pratyush Buddiga – prospicience
  • 2003 – Sai Gunturi – pococurante
  • 2005 – Anurag Kashyap – appoggiatura
  • 2008 – Sameer Mishra – guerdon
  • 2009 – Kavya Shivashankar – Laodicean
  • 2010 – Anamika Veeramani – stromuhr
  • 2011 – Sukanya Roy – cymotrichous
  • 2012 – Snigdha Nandipati – guetapens
  • 2013 – Arvind Mahankali – knaidel
  • 2014 – Tie — Sriram J. Hathwar (stichomythia) and Ansun Sujoe (feuilleton)
  • 2015 – Tie — Vanya Shivashankar (scherenschnitte) and Gokul Venkatachalam (nunatak)
  • 2016 – Tie – Jairam Hathwar (Feldenkrais) and Nihar Saireddy Janga (gessellschaft)
  • 2017 – Ananya Vinay – marocain
  • 2018 – Karthik Nemmani – koinonia


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