WILMINGTON — After 20 grueling rounds, only four competitors remained on the stage of the Saint Mark’s High School Anna Graham Theater.
All were vying for first place in the 2017 Delaware State Spelling Bee.
After a “spell off” for third place, Maanvi Sarwadi of Caravel Academy got the better of Hunter Meadows of Newark Charter School-Junior High.
That left Sahil Langote of P.S. duPont Middle School to go head-to-head with Faiz Madiwale of the Islamic Academy of Delaware. They competed for the coveted first-place trophy and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Delaware in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Going round for round, the two appeared deadlocked. But on word 291 Faiz misspelled “mandir” (a Hindu or Jain temple).
Since it was for first place, Sahil needed to both correctly spell mandir, and correctly spell the next word to clinch the win. He did both.
The final word in the bee was “jnana,” which incidentally is a term for knowledge in Indian philosophy and religion.
Reflecting on his win, Sahil understood his opponent’s misstep because he’d spent time studying “Asian words” specifically.
“A lot of the Asian words like mandir are misspelled in translations. So when I studied, I emphasized on those,” said the 11-year-old. “I studied a lot with my mom. She would pronounce the easier words, but if we came to a hard one, we’d go to dictionary.com or merriam-webster.com for pronunciations. I tried to study definitions as much as I could, too.”
According to Sahil, there were only six other students competing at the P.S. duPont Middle School spelling bee that qualified him for the state competition. However, it also came to a hair-raising finish. Sahil said that while facing off against an eighth grader, the students had exhausted all the words from the study list and had moved on to a backup list containing words for which they weren’t prepared.
“I just happened to know the two words I needed,” he said. “The girl I was competing with misspelled ‘inane’, but I got it. Then I was able to win on ‘precipice’ — I actually only knew that one from a video game I played.”
Seventy-six students from across the state competed at the bee — each earning their spots after winning their school’s respective bees. Anne Marie Eanes, chairperson of Saint Mark’s English Department and spelling bee coordinator, was pleased with the recent growth the state bee has seen.
Since Saint Mark’s started playing host to the event nine years ago, the participation rate has just about doubled.
“We started out with only 39 schools,” she said. “The kids were great this year. They were very competitive, but poised and gracious. They made sure to congratulate the winner and they were quick to applaud students who misspelled a word and had to leave the stage. We’re very proud of all their performances.”
Word pronouncer Dave Skocik, who’s been emceeing the spelling bee for 27 years, was also pleased with the turnout and the sportsmanship.
“These kids are crème de la crème,” he said. “I look forward to being here every year. It’s such an important thing to celebrate and it’s a good opportunity to focus on the positive things happening in our schools. It reflects well on not only the students, but their teachers and parents as well.”
The state’s spelling bee is open to fourth- through eighth-graders. In addition to Mr. Skocik, the bee was judged by retired News Journal reporter Robin Brown and me.
Ms. Brown also exalted the competitors’ performance.
“This group of students was tremendous,” she said. “It was great to see so much family and teacher support, as well.”
According to the Scripps website, the national champion — to be determined in the May competition — will win a $40,000 cash prize, the Scripps National Spelling Bee engraved trophy, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, a complete reference library, $400 of reference works including a 1768 Encyclopædia Britannica Replica Set Deluxe Edition, a three-year membership to Britannica Online Premium and a trip to New York City for the opportunity to appear on “LIVE with Kelly.”
Sahil knows he has quite a bit of studying ahead of him to prepare for the national event, but for now he plans on enjoying his trophy.
“It’s definitely more majestic than previous trophies I’ve seen,” he said with a smile.
Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at firstname.lastname@example.org