Indian-origin girl is the spelling bee queen

Written by AFP | Washington | Updated: May 31 2009, 05:27am hrs
After months of training, in the end it took Kavya Shivashankar, just nine correct letters to be crowned the new US spelling champion. She correctly spelt Laodicean, meaning to be lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics, to claim victory in the 2009 Scripps Spelling Bee.

Kansas-based, Indian-origin girl Kavya Shivashankar, 13, has become Americas spelling champion by winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

But I dont think anything can replace spelling, Kavya Shivashankar said. Spelling has been such a big part of my life.

On her fourth and final try, the Kansas girl who flashed a sweet smile with every word won the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night, outlasting 10 other finalists to take home more than $40,000 in cash and prizes and, of course, the huge champions trophy.

The competitiveness is in her, but she doesnt show that, said her father, Mirle Shivashankar. She still has that smile. Thats her quality.

Kavya became the seventh Indian-American in 11 years to claim the title, including back-to-back winners who want to be neurosurgeons. Her role model is the one who started the run: 1999 winner Nupur Lala, who was featured in the documentary Spellbound and is now a research assistant in the brain and cognitive sciences lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kavya, from Olathe, Kan., was an obvious favorite, having finished 10th, eighth and fourth in her three previous appearances. Her winning word was the proper adjective Laodicean, which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics. As with all her words, Kavya wrote the letters in the palm of her hand with her finger as she called them out. This is the moment weve been waiting for; its a dream come true, Mirle Shivashankar said. We havent skipped meals, we havent lost sleep, but weve skipped a lot of social time.

One way the family plans to make up for it will be a belated celebration of Kavyas birthday. She was too busy preparing for the bee to make a fuss over turning 13 last week. Second place went to the only finalist yet to become a teenager. Twelve-year-old Tim Ruiter of Centreville, matched Kavya word-for-word until he misspelled Maecenas, which means a cultural benefactor. I had absolutely no clue about that word, Tim said.

Finishing third at this years event was another Indian-origin girl from Illinois named Aishwarya Pastapur, 13, after misspelling menhir, a type of monolith.

The 82nd annual bee attracted a record 293 participants, with the champion determined on network television in prime time for the fourth consecutive year. This year there was a new humorous twist: Organizers turned the sentences read by pronouncer Jacques Bailly into jokes.

But the laughter turned to shock when the speller, Sidharth Chand of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., flubbed the word, spelling it apodeiterium. Sidharth was last years runner-up and a favorite to take the title this year.

Among the spectators was Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, who kicked off the championship rounds by telling of a bout with nerves that caused her to drop out of a sixth-grade spelling contest. I know that confidence is the most important thing you can give a child, she told the audience.