Spread the word: Smyrna student wins state spelling bee

Smyrna Middle School eighth-grade student Anna Nguyen earned first place at the statewide spelling bee Saturday. She will go on to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in May. Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz

NEWARK — Guttural, adjective: the word that stood between Anna Nguyen and a $25,000 scholarship to Saint Mark’s High School and a ticket to the National Spelling Bee.

With the correct spelling — and not a hint of hesitation — Anna became Delaware’s top speller of 2020.

“Am I dreaming or something?” she said after the bee.

Anna, an eighth-grade student at Smyrna Middle School, earned the spot after handily passing words like “capillary,” “antithesis” and “ethanol.”

“Antithesis, I was really confused. Like, ‘Do I know this word?’’ she said. “Then I ended up spelling it right.”

That was in round three, which knocked out six of her peers, after nearly 40 spellers had been eliminated since the start of the competition.

“It helps to have a good base knowledge of a lot of the words,” Anna said.

Anna was among the fourth- to eighth-grade students from 74 schools that qualified for the statewide bee. This is the 12th year Saint Mark’s has hosted the bee, and the first with scholarships from the school.

The bee pulls from 500 words, which are selected annually by national organizers from the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, according to a release about the bee.

Second place for the bee went to Sage Sawhney, a seventh-grade student at Postlethwait Middle School. Third was awarded to Anaum Allimulla, an eighth-grade student at Newark Charter Junior High School. Both were also awarded scholarships to Saint Mark’s.

Sage earned $20,000, and Anaum earned $15,000. The scholarships will be spread out over the four years, said Anne Marie Eanes, chair of the school’s English department and spelling bee coordinator.

The three weren’t new to the bee. Sage actually placed last year, in third, but for Anna and Anaum, the trophies were new.

“I took it more seriously this time because I have made it pretty close to here before, but then fell short by four or five places,” Anaum said.

Kent and Sussex spellers in grades four to eight competed for top honors at the statewide spelling bee Saturday.

She said she was nervous when she first arrived to Saint Mark’s Saturday morning.

“When I was coming here, I saw the amount of people and it was just really overwhelming. I was like, ‘I’m never going to win anything amongst all these people,’” she said. “A lot of the judges were saying, ‘Just take a deep breath, and then do it as calmly as possible,’ — and that really does help.”

Anna was knocked out pretty early two years ago when she competed at the state level, she said. She was determined to place this time.

“Every day since I won the school spelling bee, I practiced,” she said. “I even have held a mock spelling bee at home.”

The hard work paid off; Anna will compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.

“I might end up on your TV screen,” she said.

She and her family have to deliberate where she’ll attend high school next year, she said. But she knows she’ll be practicing for the national competition.

“I know that age and experience have made me wiser,” she said. “It feels exhilarating to actually get to go to the National Spelling Bee.”