Karthik Nemmani swayed onstage in a blue hoodie, hands clasped behind his back.
In any other year, the 14-year-old from McKinney, Tex., would not have made it to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
But as a wild-card contender in Thursday’s contest, he took home the top prize, besting a four-time veteran who was all but favored to win.
Naysa Modi was graceful and poised, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Tex., who had participated in previous Scripps national bees but had never won.
This was not the first time she had squared off with Karthik. The middle-schooler had vanquished him in March at the Golden Chick Dallas Regional Spelling Bee.
On Thursday, though, she misspelled “bewusstseinslage,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components.”
When it was Karthik’s turn at the microphone, the announcer gave him the word, “koinonia,” an intimate spiritual or Christian communion. He asked for the definition, smiled, then spelled it correctly. Naysa congratulated her fellow Texan, eyes welling with tears, as confetti cascaded from the ceiling.
“I had confidence, but I didn’t think it would really happen,” Karthik said after he was presented with his trophy. “I’m just really happy. This has just been a dream come true.”
Karthik, the son of an immigrant from India, was one of more than 500 spellers to compete this year, the largest number ever. That’s because the organizers instituted a new program, called “RSVBee,” that allowed participants who had not won a regional or state spelling bee to enter. Karthik qualified as a wild card through the “RSVBee” program.
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SOURCE: New York Times, Laura M. Holson