Three North Texans among the 8 co-champions of National Spelling Bee
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Eight spellers — including three North Texans — made history Thursday night as they were named co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The champions are still figuring out which spelling they prefer but the winners are calling themselves “octochamps.”
After 17 rounds, and more than nine hours of spelling, the marathon of a day was starting to catch up to the spellers.
In the 16th round, Rohan Raja of Irving, a seventh-grader from Coppell Middle School West, had trouble pronouncing “Gaeltacht,” any of the Irish-speaking regions remaining in Ireland.
“I sounded like I vomited,” Rohan said but nailed the spelling part.
Abhijay Kodali, a sixth-grader from McKamy Middle School in Flower Mound, had trouble hearing his word “aphesis,” meaning aphaeresis consisting of the loss of a short unaccented vowel, in the 17th round.
Pronouncer Jacques Bailly, the 1980 Spelling Bee Champion, stopped the competition following that round to say it had reached “uncharted territory.”
“We are basically throwing the dictionary at you and so far you are showing the dictionary who is boss,” he said.
Following three more rounds of spelling, which Bailly said was all the words they had for the eight spellers remaining, whoever was still standing would be named the champions.
“I was excited, pressued and worried,” Abhijay said during a press conference about spelling in the final rounds. “If I didn’t know one of those three, I would not be here.”
The audience stood up and cheered during the final round after each participant spelled their word correctly. The spellers admitted how terrible the round was, especially for Rohan.
“I was last. I had to watch everybody . . . and just wait to spell my word,” he said.
Each of the winners are still figuring out how they will celebrate. For the Texans, their expectations are reasonable. Abhijay just wants to get some sleep, Sohum is going to get a cat and Rohan said his mom promised him a phone if he won the National Spelling Bee.
The day began with 50 spellers and nine Texans. By the end of round 8, 16 spellers and four Texans — all from North Texas — remained.
After a perfect ninth round from all 16 contestants, two stumbled in round 10, including Hephzibah Sujoe, a seventh-grader from Bethesda Christian School in Fort Worth.
Hephzibah was the second person to fall after misspelling “flaser,” meaning an irregular usually streaked lens of granular texture found in a micaceous interstitial mass of rock and produced by shearing and pressure during metamorphism.
As Hephzibah spelled the word, a split-screen showed her brother Ansun, the co-champion of the 2014 National Spelling Bee, in the audience. As soon as she said the letters, Ansun looked like he knew it was wrong.
With Hephzibah out, three North Texans remained as the spelling bee entered its 20th round: Rohan, Abhijay and Sohum Sukhatankar, a seventh-grader St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas.
The trio has faced each other before at regionals and nationals for the last two years.
This year, Abhijay won the regionals as Rohan and Sohum tied for second place.
In the 15th round, they reached were in the top 8 — the highest point all three of them had reached together at nationals.
Abhijay finished third at last year’s competition but neither Sohum or Rohan had finished above 10th.
As other spellers continued to fall Thursday night, the trio remained near the top with Rohan knocking out “choumoellier,” a type of cabbage; Sohum excitedly spelling “chocalho,” a Brazillian rattle; and Abhijay impressing the crowd with “auftaktigkeit,” a music principle meaning all musical phrases begin on an upbeat.
Word by word, the eight remaining spellers secured their place as co-champions with Rohan the last to join the group. Each speller will get their own trophy and $50,000.
“You all are amazing, absolutely amazing,” said E.W. Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson.