OXON HILL, Md. — Forty-one youngsters, including the Augusta area’s Rachael Cundey, have advanced to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Theey had the highest scores after Wednesday’s onstage rounds and a computer test that included a vocabulary section for the first time in bee history.
Rachael, 14, of Evans, had no problem with “lokshen” (another word for noodles). She tied for 10th last year and is back for the fifth time.
Speller No. 1 – Meghana Giri, of Anniston, Ala. – handled the Cold War-era word “glasnost” without a hitch.
The semifinals are this afternoon. The finals are set for tonight, with the winner taking home more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.
The first 20 spellers breezed through words such as “mandir,” “Eocene” and “tertiary” before the telltale bell rang for the first time when Alan Shi, of Irvine, Calif., put an “s’’ instead of a “c’’ at the start of “cynosure.” The first to be eliminated, Alan was uncertain which way to go until officials directed him to the offstage comfort couch to be met by a parent.
The spellers came from all 50 states and Canada, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, China, Ghana, Italy, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The youngest is 8-year-old Tara Singh, of Louisville, Ky. Last year there was a 6-year-old – Lori Anne Madison, the youngest speller ever to qualify – but she did not win her regional bee this year.
Another top contender hopes to become the second half of the bee’s first set of sibling champions. Eleven-year-old Vanya Shivashankar, of Olathe, Kan., finished tied with Rachael for 10th last year and is hoping to emulate her sister, Kavya, who won the title in 2009.
Vanya, sporting her now-familiar look of headband and ponytail, is an energetic presence onstage and nods assuredly after spelling her words. It’s quite the contrast from her sister, who came across as more serious and always finished her words with a modest smile.
They have the same spelling style – tracing the words on the palm while calling out the letters.