Two Fort Worth-area spelling prodigies went deep into the final rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Hephzibah Sujoe, 13, and Maitri Kovuru, 14, took to the multicolored, beehive-themed stage in front of a national television audience Thursday at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor, Maryland.
The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee began Monday with 562 hopefuls. By Thursday morning, the field had been narrowed to 50 of the nation’s best spellers, and by the afternoon, only 16 spellers were left standing. Those final 16 spellers — five of whom are from North Texas — appeared in prime-time competition on ESPN.
Maitri, a McLean Middle School eighth-grader was done early Thursday morning. She exited in the fifth round after misspelling diaeresis, which is the word used to describe the two small dots that go above words such as naïve. She received a $500 gift card.
Near the beginning of the championship rounds, Ansan Sujoe, the 2014 co-champion and Hephzibah’s older brother, was brought on stage during a commercial break. When asked if he had advice for the 2019 competitors, he told the crowd a simple phrase: “Be chill, be real and have a thrill.”
Those words proved to be crucial advice, as the spellers who exuded confidence and had fun at the microphone usually did best. Hephzibah was no exception. She advanced to the final 16 spellers by successfully stringing together yponomeutid (ee-pah-nuh-MYOO-tid), which is a type of moth, and the audience of several hundred erupted in applause as she successfully spelled campylobacter, a type of bacteria, to close out the ninth round.
But Hephzibah, a seventh-grader at Bethesda Christian School, would not advance further. She finished 15th in the competition, misspelling flaser (FLAH-zuhr) in the 10th round. As she exited the stage, several other spellers embraced her. She received $2,000 in cash.
After exiting the stage, Hephzibah described her journey from Fort Worth to a top-20 national speller as “really great.”
“I’ve been getting a lot of help and support, especially from people at my school, and a lot from my parents and especially my brother, who inspired me to start this spelling bee journey when he won in 2014,” Hephzibah said.
Hephzibah said her coach, Grace Walters, has given her support and has been with her “every step of the way.” Hephzibah said she plans to return to the national spelling bee next year.
Both Maitri and Hephzibah advanced to the national bee after finishing in the top two spots of the regional spelling bee at TCU. Maitri topped Hephzibah in that competition, which had to end in a written-test tiebreaker after the pair survived 63 rounds and the proctor ran out of words to give.
The state of Texas has fared better than any other state when it comes to national spelling bee competition. It has produced 10 winners, followed by Ohio, with nine.
The winner of the competition receives $50,000 in cash and prizes and the Scripps Cup, a new, engraved trophy.