Education News

Houston Spelling Bee Sees Repeat Co-Champions From Last Year

Both top spellers will compete in the National Spelling Bee in May.


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Returning co-champions Shobha Dasari, 13, and Syamantak Payra, 12, won the Houston Spelling Bee for the second year in a row.

The Houston Spelling Bee started with the best 55 spellers from the region.

But by round eight, there were just two spellers left: speller No. 29, Shobha Dasari from Pearland …

“… G-W-Y-N. Clogwyn. That is correct.”

And speller No. 50, Syamantak Payra from Clear Creek.

“Maglev. M-A-G-L-E-V. Maglev. That is correct.”

Shobha and Syamantak faced off for the final nine words.

But neither one spelled a single “championship word” correctly …

“I’m sorry the spelling .. “

So, they both ended up as co-champions — just like last year when they were also named the winners of the Houston bee.

Syamantak says he’s been studying spelling since third grade.

“This bee is again very, very hard. And to know I’m a great speller gives me that much more motivation to go onto nationals—study harder, work harder and then perform very well. Whatever God has blessed me with, I try to use to my full potential.”

This will be Syamantak’s last spelling bee since he’s in eighth grade.

His co-champion Shobha could return next year. She’s 13 years old and in the seventh grade. She tries to keep things in perspective.

“Spelling bees are mostly about chance and luck. So you the person before you can get an easy word and you could end up getting a word that’s out of this world. So don’t let that discourage you.”

In fact, tough words almost knocked both of the repeat champions out of the bee.

Both of them regained their spots on appeal.

Sanjukta Payra explains her son won his appeal because his word “nascent” was a homonym.

“So this is one of the unique strange words in the dictionary where you know they’re the same words, basically. And all he has is the definition to decipher, not knowing it’s a homonym, they did not know which one they wanted.”

At Rice University, Simon Fischer-Baum studies spelling and the brain. He says it’s actually a very complicated task for the human brain to learn to spell a word.

He says the brain not only has to understand the sounds in the words, break those sounds up into smaller components and understand what sounds correspond to what letters.

“And then also do these short-term memory things like hold these letters in their head while they’re trying to produce them one at a time.”

One former champion says there’re important lessons from the bee besides just learning how to spell new words.

“Learning to handle both victory and disappointment gracefully.”

That’s Nupur Lala. She won the National Spelling Bee in 1999 and starred in the documentary “Spellbound.” She’s now living here in Houston.

She says she’s learned something else from her spelling bee days.

“Sort of persevering for something very difficult and keeping your cool. And yeah, I think as I get older, I realize, too, that in every success, right, there’s also an element of luck and so I think that keeps you humbled and motivated.”

Lala says she sends the best of luck to Houston’s two repeat champions as they prepare to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. later in May.

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