Three Indian American kids are the top favourites to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee title after last year's spelling champion, 14-year-old Sameer Mishra, son of an Indian immigrant couple from Madhya Pradesh.
The three, Kavya Shivashankar, Sidharth Chand and Vaibhav S. Vavilala, are among 35 Indian-American and other South Asian students vying for the top honours in Thursday's finals in Washington with a record 293 spellers.
Scripps Bee is America's largest and longest-running educational promotion, administered on a not-for-profit basis by the E W Scripps Company and 287 local spelling bee sponsors.
As the preliminary round of the contest begins on Wednesday afternoon at the Grand Hyatt Washington, the question uppermost in the minds of Indian Americans is whether history will be repeated.
Spellers of Indian descent have won six out of the last 10 years, but girls have won only twice in the last decade. Kavya from Kansas has improved every year. She was placed 10th, 8th and 4th, respectively in the last three years.
Sidharth Chand from Michigan now sporting a peach fuzz moustache finished second last year. Chand says he spends the majority of his weekends studying words.
Vavilala from Indiana has participated in three national finals. His brother Vikas also had a national finals appearance. Vaibhav had his 14th birthday last week, but refuses to celebrate until after the Spelling Bee is done.
Other Indian-American participants include Aishwarya Eshwar Pastapur of Illinois, Avvinash Radakrishnan of New Hampshire, Akshay Krishna Raghuram of Texas and Mouctika L Paluri also of Texas, who are returning for the third time. Rahul Ramesh Malayappan of Connecticut is competing for the second time.
Starting with Balu Natarajan in 1985 and including last year's title holder Mishra, eight Indian Americans have won the title. Rageshree Ramachandran won in 1988. Nupur Lala who won the bee in 1999 was featured in the documentary "Spellbound."
George Abraham Thampy claimed the title in 2000. Pratyush Buddiga and Sai R Gunturi wrested it in 2002 and 2003 respectively with Anurag Kashyap taking it in 2005.
This year's spellers range in age from 9 to 15 years, but two-thirds are either 13 or 14 years old. For 118 spellers, this is their first time in the finals. English is not the first language of 33 spellers, and 117 spellers speak languages other than English.
The participants qualified for the national finals by virtue of their winning the regional bees.