Thirteen-year-old Harini Logan created history by becoming the first-ever Scripps National Spelling Bee winner via the newly introduced spell-off format. The Indian-origin teen, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, received a trophy and a cheque for $50,000.
Harini beat Denver-native Vikram Raju, 12, in the spell-off, a format devised to test the contestants on how many words they could spell correctly within 90 seconds. While Vikram spelled 15 out of 19 words correctly, Harini spelled 21 out of 26.
NOT A SMOOTH VICTORY
The path to victory, however, was not smooth for Harini, who was eliminated from the competition before being reinstated. The eighth-grade student, who looks up to United States Vice President Kamala Harris, had competed in the last in-person Bee three years ago.
Among the best-known spellers entering the competition and a crowd favourite for her positivity, Harini’s defining moment came during the multiple-choice vocabulary round. She defined “pullulation” as the nesting of mating birds, but Scripps said the correct answer was the swarming of bees.
However, that was not the end. Mary Brooks, the head judge, told her after a while: “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 in that word and actually the answer you gave to that word is considered correct, so we’re going to reinstate you.”
Harini did not look back again as she breezed into the finals. Harini spelled more words than more than 230 other competitors at the national level, including the 12 other finalists. She finally claimed the trophy in the first-ever lightning round. Her winning word was “moorhen” (the female of the red grouse).
HARINI, THE AUTHOR
A prolific reader and creative writer, Harini’s first book will be published soon, reports suggest. It was her love for reading that got her into learning the art and science of spelling. The teenager lists traveling, watching films, and listening to music as her favourite indulgences, while she also plays the piano in her spare time.
“Our 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion… Harini Logan draws inspiration from VP Kamala Harris. After tonight, Harini is inspiring a new generation of spellers everywhere. She says it takes a village to build up a speller. Hers is happy tonight,” the Scripps National Spelling Bee tweeted after her crowning.
INDIAN-AMERICANS AT THE SPELLING BEE
Indian-origin teenagers have come to dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee in recent years. The last time the event was held in-person in 2019, eight students shared the trophy, of which seven were of Indian origin. This year too, almost 70 children of Indian origin were among the 234 spellers to join the national rounds in Maryland between May 31 and June 2.
Since 2008, children of Indian origin have emerged as winners in the competition, except in 2021 when Zaila Avant-garde became the first African-American winner of the Bee. So far, 22 Indian-Americans have won the competition or been co-champions, including Balu Natarajan, the first Indian to win the Bee in 1985. He inspired Indian-American children and led to several foundations and non-profits being set up to host such competitions in the South Asian diaspora.
Research suggests that memorisation, education, and networks give Indian-American children the edge in the Bee.
Sanjoy Chakravorty of Temple University wrote in the BBC: “The parents of these high-achieving youngsters are highly educated and value education. There are suggestions that they are particularly adept at rote learning and memorisation. They work in clusters and use ethnic and family networks to dominate a few professions. These properties are strikingly similar to what works for their children in the spelling and geography bees.”
With inputs from the Associated Press.