The competition will be hosted in person at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida and will be broadcast live on ESPN2, July 8, at 8 pm ET
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, July 5, 2021 – Indian-American kids are dominating the National Spelling Bee and this year is no different! Of the eleven finalists who will compete for the championship trophy in the 2021 edition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, nine are of Indian origin.
The widely viewed competition was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year, as we emerge from Covid-19, the eagerly awaited event will be hosted in person at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, and will be broadcast live on ESPN2, July 8, at 8 pm ET.
Dominating the stage with their presence and acumen will be nine Indian-American spelling whizzes: Ashrita Gandhari, 14, of Leesburg, Virginia; Bhavana Madini, 13, of New York; Sreethan Gajula, 14, of Charlotte, North Carolina; Avani Joshi, 13, of Loves Park, Illinois; Vivinsha Veduru, 10, of Fort Worth, Texas; Dhroov Bharatia, 12, of Dallas, Texas; Vihaan Sibal, 12, of Waco, Texas; Akshainie Kamma, 13, of Austin, Texas; and Chaitra Thummala, 12 of San Francisco, California.
The eleven finalists – including Roy Seligman, 12, of Nassau, The Bahamas, and Zaila Avant-garde, 14, of New Orleans – will compete for the top cash prize of $50,000, the official championship trophy of the Spelling Bee; a $2,500 cash prize and reference library from Merriam-Webster, and $400 of reference works.
The spellers have successfully forged ahead through three levels of virtual competition: the Preliminaries held June 12; the Quarterfinals on June 15; and the Semifinals on June 27. Beginning with 209 national qualifiers, the semifinals saw 30 remaining spellers compete in a nail-biting three rounds: two of spelling, plus a word meaning session.
“We are honored to introduce our 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee finalists. Round after round, this group of spellers proved their mettle, and we look forward to seeing them show off their knowledge and hard work as they square off against the dictionary on the national stage”, said Dr. J. Michael Durnil, executive director of the Spelling Bee, in a press statement.
“Congratulations to all of this year’s 209 national qualifiers. They’ve persevered over a year that has been challenging in many ways, and our team is proud to have witnessed their journey”, he added.
It is noteworthy that Indian-American kids have won the spelling bee for all but four of the last twenty editions.
In a marathon, memorable competition, eight adolescents including seven Indian-origin kids, were crowned co-champions of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee. It was unprecedented in the Bee’s 92-year history which has seen two co-winners in three consecutive years, but never so many recipients of the top prize.
Karthik Nemmani aced the 2018 competition when he correctly spelled ‘Koinonia’ (the Christian fellowship or body of believers) and was conferred the top prize of $40,000. Indian-origin kids made a clean sweep of the awards bagging the top six slots, and comprising nearly 70 percent of the finalists.
By correctly spelling ‘Marocain’ (a ribbed crepe fabric made of silk, wool or rayon), Ananya Vinay, 12, of California was crowned champion of the 2017 contest. Not only did she compete against another Indian-American speller, Rohan Rajeev, 14, of Oklahoma, the majority (13 out of 15) of finalists were of Indian descent.
In the three preceding years, spellers tied for first place: Jairam Hathwar and Nihar Janga (2016); Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam (2015); Sriram Hathwar (Jairam’s older brother) and Ansun Sujoe (2014).
This year, Bee organizers will have the option of activating a spell-off if needed. Such an option will be exercised in the closing minutes of the competition if a champion has not been declared in a traditional, one-person, one-word round.
While the in-person portion of the competition at the ESPN complex will not be open to spectators given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Bee is treating audiences to view special events including an upcoming pre-show for the Finals on July 8, at 7:30 pm, and an awards ceremony on July 11, at 3:00 pm. Audiences can access these livestreams as well as past virtual events on the Bee’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.