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The Indian-American domination of the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Harini Logan, 14, from San Antonio, Texas, celebrates winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee with her family.

Harini Logan, 14, from San Antonio, Texas, celebrates winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee with her family. | Photo Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

The story so far:Harini Logan, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from San Antonio, Texas, won the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition held on June 2. With her victory, Ms. Logan extended the dominance of South Asians, especially people of Indian origin, even further in the annual competition held in the U.S.

The first edition of the National Spelling Bee was held in 1925 when nine newspapers came together to host the event. Ninety years later, the event today reaches around 11 million students annually.

Ms. Logan’s journey to the title

Ms. Logan claimed the trophy in the first-ever lightning-round tiebreaker — a spell-off. But, this was not her first attempt at the coveted title. She competed in the spelling bee competition in 2018, when she was tied for 323rd place. In 2019, she made a massive improvement in her performance and tied for 30th place. In 2021, Ms. Logan was tied for 31st place.

In the 2022 competition, Ms. Logan was eliminated once, then reinstated. In the much-debated multiple-choice vocabulary round, she defined the word “pullulation” as the nesting of mating birds. Scripps said the correct answer was the swarming of bees. That might have seemed like the end of Ms. Logan’s journey in the competition, but there was more to come.

“We did a little sleuthing after you finished, which is what our job is, to make sure we’ve made the right decision. We (did) a little deep dive into that word and actually the answer you gave to that word is considered correct, so we’re going to reinstate you,” head judge Mary Brooks said.

From there, Ms. Logan moved to the finals comfortably to compete against Vikram Raju, another participant of Indian origin. Both Ms. Logan and Mr. Raju misspelled four words and advanced to the spell-off tiebreaker round.

Ms. Logan answered 22 out of 26 spellings correctly in the tiebreaker.

Harini Logan’s tie-breaker spellings

Harini Logan’s tie-breaker spellings | Photo Credit: spellingbee.com

In his lightning round, Mr. Raju spelled 15 out of 19 words correctly in 90 seconds.

Vikram Raju’s tie-breaker spellings

Vikram Raju’s tie-breaker spellings | Photo Credit: spellingbee.com

At least nine of the 13 finalists of the 2022 edition of spelling bee were of Indian descent.

India’s dominance

Balu Natarajan was the first person of Indian origin to win the spelling-bee championship in 1985. The feat was repeated by Rageshree Ramachandran, another person of Indian origin, in 1988.

Indians have continued to perform well in the competition since then. Nupur Lala won the spelling bee in 1999, followed by George Thampy in 2000, Pratyush Buddiga in 2002, Sai Gunturi in 2003, and Anurag Kashyap in 2005. But it was with Sameer Mishra’s win in 2008 when the Indian dominance of the competition really started to shine through. Participants of Indian origin won consecutive championships until 2019. The competition was cancelled in 2020 — the first time since the Second World War — due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, Zaila Avant-garde became the first African-American participant to win the Scripps Spelling Bee, breaking the 12-year-long run of winners of Indian origin.


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Printable version | Aug 18, 2022 3:49:48 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/the-indian-american-domination-of-the-scripps-national-spelling-bee/article65500366.ece