Fil-Am teen makes it to top 5 of US spelling bee

Posted at 05/30/14 4:58 PM

Fil-Am Alia Abiad (center, in white blouse) and the finalists of the National Spelling Bee. Photo courtesy of National Spelling Bee Twitter account

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino-American teenager made it to the finals of the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee championship in National Harbor, Maryland.

Alia Abiad, a 14-year-old from Western Springs, Illinois, finished in a tie for fifth place. She was one of four girls out of the 12 finalists.

The 8th grader from McClure Junior High School was the only representative from Illinois.

Chicago Tribune reported Abiad had correctly spelled "quebrada,""collyrium," "buñuelo," and "brindisi" at the finals. However, she stumbled on "irbis".

This was the Fil-Am's second time to make it to the finals. She had finished in a tie for 19th place in 2013.

Lorraine Abiad, her mother, said she and her husband were surprised to hear her name called out as one of the finalists.

"My husband was filming and he actually turned off the camera because they didn't call her name until the very end. This is awesome! We are just like, 'pinch me!'," Abiad was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying.

This year, the Scripps National Spelling Bee had 281 contestants, aged eight to 15, from the 50 states plus Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea as well as schools in Europe for US military families.

Two winners

Meanwhile, two teenagers of South Asian heritage made history when they became the first co-winners of the national spelling bee in more than half a century.

Ansun Sujoe, 13, and Sriram Hathwar, 14, hoisted the glittering gold cup together after they saw off 10 other finalists before taking turns to exhaust the competition's demanding word list.

In the nail-biting finale, Hathwar correctly spelled stichomythia, meaning a dialogue of altercation in Greek drama.

Then Sujoe stepped up to the microphone and learned he and Hathwar would be co-champions if he nailed the last word of the night.

He did. It was feuilleton, a noun for a newspaper supplement, which he spelled flawlessly despite admitting later that he's sometimes uncomfortable with French-based words.

"Correct," said official pronouncer Jacques Bailly, a classics professor and 1980 bee champion, triggering a shower of confetti and a standing ovation from the ballroom crowd in the Gaylord resort outside Washington.

The first joint champions since 1962 will each take home their own trophy cups as well as more than $30,000 in cash prizes, savings bonds and reference works.

The boys are also the seventh and eighth youngsters of South Asian heritage since 2008 to conquer the National Spelling Bee, an American institution since the 1920s.

"I try to study as hard as I can. I try to be true to myself (and) hope for the best," Hathwar, who wore a small American and Indian flag button on his white polo shirt as a token of good luck, told AFP.

It was his fourth time at the National Spelling Bee, where he placed third last year. He once produced a TEDx talk on his competitive spelling experiences.

"What do I do next? Get back to normal stuff," added Sujoe, sporting a snappy red bow tie. He now expects to start coaching his younger sister so that she can follow in his spelling footsteps.

Sujoe, whose interests include programming robots and helping out at a senior citizens' home, also competed last year. Champions are ineligible to return to future National Spelling Bees.

Many of the winning words over National Spelling Bee history have taken their place in everyday English, such as condominium (1956), catamaran (1959), chihuahua (1967) and croissant (1970).

But Thursday's words amounted to a cornucopia of obscure terminology like bamboche (a Haitian fete), croquignole (a hair-waving method) and shibuichi (a Japanese alloy).

Crowd favorite Jacob Daniel Williamson, a wise-cracking 15-year-old in a checkered shirt from Cape Coral, Florida, shouted "I know it!" from the stage when asked to spell kabaragoya, a kind of aquatic lizard.

Delight immediately gave way to defeat, however, when Williamson heard the dreaded bell after he erroneously started the word with a C.

Another finalist who struck out was 14-year-old Kate Miller of Abilene, Texas, who looked on the bright side after fumbling exochorion,the outer layer of an insect egg.

"I don't need to study spelling anymore," she said. "I'm going to go home and watch every horror movie on which I can get my hands." - With Agence France-Presse