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National Spelling Bee stalwarts endure a 2-year gap

Six months later, the 2020-21 geobee season was cancelled. She then returned to spelling, certain that Scripps would bring the largest academic competition back on the calendar.

Avani is also a competitor in Science Olympiad, and quiz bowl. Imagine if all that was left were gone.

I would be lost in books. The books are always there so I have the guarantee that they will be there," Roscoe's 13-year old said. "I like programming, so I also have that. I would like to learn another language. My goal is to learn C++ in the next year. I also plan on learning Spanish and Sanskrit.

COVID-19 put Avani and the other top spellers in lockdown. They learned patience and perseverance from their restless minds. The bees are prepared for all year, with hundreds of hours of drilling per day. Many have access to expensive study guides and private coaches. Spellers are limited in their competitive window. They can't compete with kids after eighth grade and rarely have more than one chance to win.

Two years has passed between bees, which only strengthened the determination of many spellers, including Avani, who will compete in the finals Thursday night at an ESPN Campus in Florida to realize their full potential.

"My passion for spelling has kept me going. "If you don't have a passion or interest in spelling, the quarantine might be very, very difficult for you," stated Akshainie Kamma, 13, from Round Rock, Texas.

The most devastating disappointment in 2020 was felt by the eighth-graders that year. They were denied their best chance to win the Scripps trophy. They unsuccessfully tried to petition the Cincinnati-based media company for a limited-participation or virtual Scripps bee.

Participants who had competed two years back but were still eligible for this year's competition struggled with motivation.

Akshita Balaji (14-year-old semifinalist) said, "I pushed through," "My passion kinda went down a bit. Although I felt a bit demotivated, I continued to study.

Since the last in-person competition , the bee has undergone major changes. The eight-way tie resulted from Scripps' weak word list. Paige Kimble, a former champion bee executive director, resigned last December.

J. Michael Durnil was a long-standing leader in nonprofits. He managed the bee's return using a mostly virtual format and added vocabulary questions and a lightning-round tiebreaker so that there would be only one winner.

Because of the threat of COVID-19, and the 11 finalists will not compete in person. It was too risky to plan months ahead for large-scale in-person gatherings during the traditional time on the calendar: the week before Memorial Day. The first round of the bee was spread over several weeks and ended with last Sunday's semifinals.

The spelling community often reacts strongly to changes in the format and rules of the bee. Vocabulary questions were not included in the written test before this year and many feel they distract from the unique skill of being able to spell a strange-sounding word on the spot.

However, the pandemic and cancellation last year have made it difficult to see such small changes.

Before he was eliminated from the semifinals, Vayun Krishna, a 14 year-old Sunnyvale, California boy, stated that he had gained knowledge, experience, and learned a lot from the pandemic. "If they hadn't introduced vocab, I would have been in more panic. But now, I feel like I'm taking this in stride."

The in-person bee goes beyond a competition. It's a week-long celebration, wholesome and unapologetically geeky, that brings together some hundred kids with a common passion.

In 2019, Akshainie learnt valuable lessons from fellow spellers, and she regrets the loss of these social opportunities. She believes she was able to benefit from her isolation.

She said, "Before the epidemic, it was like everyone was watching you and expecting something from your." "At home I was alone, and I was able work for myself and not everyone else."

Avani, who was nervous when she first appeared on stage and mispelled a word, used the time off for sangfroid, which she explained means "quiet". She's a speller so she understands how it feels to be calm.

She said, "I could meditate a lot, worked out techniques to calm down my nerves," Yoga has been a great help over the past year. These things have allowed me to focus on my weaknesses that were present in sixth grade.

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