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Indian American kid spells history

Indian kids have dominated the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest in recent years, winning the championship five times in the last nine years. This time, Sriram Hathwar, an 8-year-old Indian American boy, became the youngest speller in the event's history.
IANS | By HT Correspondent, Washington
UPDATED ON MAY 30, 2008 12:00 PM IST

Sriram Hathwar, an 8-year-old Indian American boy, has become the youngest speller in the history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee even as he could not go too far in the popular contest.

But nine other of the 30 Indian American participants made it to the semi finals of the 83-year-old competition Thursday by spelling words like "leptocercal", "bizarrerie" and "trochophore."

Indian kids have dominated the event in recent years, winning the championship five times in the last nine years. The last Indian winner was Anurag Kashyap in 2005 correctly spelling "appoggiatura".

The nine Indian kids among 45 Spellers advancing to the Semifinals were:

Easun Arunachalam ( steeve), Arushi Jauhari (leptocercal), Shiva Kangeyan ( ozostomia), Vaibhav Vavilala (luftmensch), Sameer Mishra (quadrat), Kavya Shivashankar (bizarrerie), Akshat Shekhar (monophthalmic), Sidharth Chand (purslane) and Jahnavi Iyer (trochophore).

In all, 288 children in the 8-15 age group from across the US, Canada and eight other countries qualified for the gruelling two-day competition, but only 63 made it to the quarter finals.

In the preliminary rounds Thursday, Sriram quickly nailed the word judges gave him, barely pausing between letters. "Elicitation," said Sriram, making sure to pronounce the word correctly. "E-l-i-c-i-t-a-t-i-o-n."

The crowd cheered perhaps just a touch louder for the pint-size speller, and he slinked back to his seat on stage, disappearing behind the taller contestants sitting in front of him.

Despite his correct spelling of a word trickier than many of the others given - "rigatoni" and "macaroon" for example -Sriram was barred from moving on to the bee's quarterfinals because of his score on a written spelling test administered earlier this week.

Surrounded by both disappointed, disqualified spellers and those eager to get back on the stage for the next round, the second-grader stoically left the ballroom where the bee was held.

"I am ready to get it over with," Sriram told the night before his turn in front of the judges, smiling from behind his thick-rimmed glasses, pausing only to share some of his favourite words and then, of course, to spell them out loud.

Sriram was 7 years old when he secured a place in this competition after nailing the spelling of "impervious" in a regional bee near his hometown of Pointed Post, New York.

He began playing with words when he was a toddler, according to his mother. She practices internal medicine when she's not working as her son's spelling coach.

"When [Sriram] was about 4 years old, he was still in preschool and his teachers would come and tell me that he could read and write really well," said Roopa Hathwar, adding that she is often more nervous before bees than her son. "They would go to him to clarify spelling and he became the spell check for the class."

Sriram soon became obsessed with words - playing Scrabble, constructing his own crossword puzzles and constantly asking his parents how to spell things he saw around him.

Sriram loves to spell, but he likes other things, too: baseball, piano and geography. "Maybe next time I'll try a geography bee," said Sriram.

He was excited when he was once asked to spell "schuss" at a previous bee because of his other hobby: downhill skiing. "It means skiing in German," he clarified, adjusting his blue speller's ribbon pinned to his shirt.

As for other young spellers hoping to follow his lead, Sriram has some advice. "Don't be nervous and it's okay if you get a word wrong," he said. "Just keep trying."

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