Reading & Literacy

Thirteen-Year-Old Wins National Spelling Bee With ‘Knaidel’

By Gina Cairney — May 31, 2013 2 min read
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It’s a type of dumpling usually served in soup, in case you were wondering, and it’s the word that won 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali the 2013 National Scripps Spelling Bee championship on Thursday.

If he was excited about the win, the young speller from New York didn’t show it. As the confetti fell down on the stage at the National Harbor just outside Washington, Mahankali stood there, silently soaking it all in. Humble, perhaps, or maybe he wasn’t surprised that he had taken home the win with ‘knaidel.’ After Dr. Jacques Bailly, the official pronouncer, said the word was of German origin, a confident smirk showed on Mahankali’s face.

“The German curse turned into a German blessing”, he said, referencing past challenges he had with words of German origin.

This year was Mahankali’s fourth consecutive year at the bee. He placed ninth in 2010, and finished third in 2011 and 2012. According to the spelling bee’s website, his favorite word so far is ‘sardoodledom.’

You can watch Mahankali’s winning moment here:

Mahankali’s win follows Snigdha Nandipati’s win last year, according to NPR. Eleven of the 15 winners since 1999 have been Americans of Indian descent.

I wrote last month about some changes to the competition, which now includes a computerized, multiple-choice vocabulary test taken during the preliminary round.

Based on various news outlets, it seems the test, which gave spellers points to continue to the semifinals and finals, trumped many of the contestants.

By the end of the competition’s first day, only 41 students out of 281 remained, according to the Daily News.

Despite making it through both oral rounds on Wednesday, 14-year-old Lauren Coccari from West Virginia failed to score high enough on the computerized test, eliminating her from the competition.

The same fate was met by Madeline McCoy of West Falls, N.Y., when she only scored a 22 on the 36-word written test. A score of 31 is required to qualify for the semifinals, the Buffalo News reported.

Three students representing the Cape Fear region in North Carolina also failed to advance to the semifinals due to insufficient scores on the test portion of the competition.

While learning (let’s be real) basically every word in the dictionary (and then some) is a very serious and grueling task, it doesn’t have to be devoid of fun and smiles.

At least one contestant, Amber Born, tried to use her budding comedy skills to lighten the tension.

The 14-year-old from Lynn, Mass., finished fourth place in her fourth consecutive national bee competition, after tying for 42nd place in 2012. The speller, according to her bio on the competition’s website, wants to become a comedy writer. There’s no place like a national spelling bee competition to test your jokes.

Born was eliminated in Round 12 after misspelling ‘hallali.’

Now that long, grueling hours no longer have to be spent over words this writer would cry over, the students are left to do pretty much whatever they want. Mahankali, the Bee’s 2013 champion, plans to spend the rest of his summer studying physics, a subject that would also make this writer cry into the night.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.