How Do You Spell Tie?

National Spelling Bee 2019 cochampions (left to right) Shruthika Padhy (307), Erin Howard, Rishik Gandhasri (5), Christopher Serrao, Saketh Sundar, Sohum Sukhatankar (354), Rohan Raja, and Abhijay Kodali (407)

It’s rare in a competition that you end up with eight winners. This was in no way a case of “everybody gets a trophy for participation”—there would have to be 11 million of those! After an eight-month logographic journey, 562 finalists were invited to Washington, D.C., for the finals of the 2019 National Spelling Bee. After 20 rounds, eight young Americans, aged 12 to 14, stood together as champions.

In 92 years of the national spelling competition, sponsored each year by the E. W. Scripps Company, never had there been a tie. But when the eight youths completed their 20th round all still perfect in their answers, all having completed five rounds without an error, the exhausting contest came to a halt. (Apparently there’s no tiebreaker.)

The eight cochampions, who “conquered the dictionary unequivocally with their ability, skill and command of the English language,” in the words of Paige Kimble, executive director of the National Spelling Bee, are as follows:

  • Rishik Gandhasri, 13, from San Jose, California
  • Erin Howard, 14, from Huntsville, Alabama
  • Abhijay Kodali, 12, from Flower Mound, Texas
  • Shruthika Padhy, 13, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey
  • Rohan Raja, 13, from Dallas, Texas
  • Christopher Serrao, 13, from Whitehouse Station, New Jersey
  • Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, from Dallas, Texas
  • Saketh Sundar, 13, from Clarksville, Maryland

What characteristics define a spelling champion? The diverse group of cowinners shared a deep knowledge of vocabulary and possessed poise and composure under pressure. Just as important, they dreamed big, worked hard, and had the support of their families and schools.

Image credit: © Alex Wong/Getty Images

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