A 7th grader from Aurora nearly won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. on Thursday during the first spell-off in the competition's history.
Vikram Raju, 12, went up against Harini Logan, 14, from San Antonio for the first place spot after each survived 18 traditional rounds of spelling earlier in the night. Raju logged 15 words correctly during the 90 second finale, finishing second to Logan’s 21.
During the lightning round tiebreaker, Raju went first while Logan waited off stage.
He smiled slightly as Dr. Jacques Bailly, the competition’s pronouncer, read the rules. Each speller had 90 seconds to spell as many words as they could off a predetermined list.
“Are you ready?” Bailly asked.
“Yes,” Raju said, shifting his weight back and forth behind a podium before launching into the spelling sprint.
The first word was spealbone, which means “the shoulder blade used by magicians or medicine men in divination,” according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary. Raju got it right.
Other words he nailed included phreatophyte, a deep-rooted plant that obtains its water from a layer of soil above it, and chara, another type of plant common in freshwater lakes.
After each contestant had their turn, both were brought to center stage. A judge announced the final tally of correctly spelled words, handing Logan the first place trophy. As confetti fell, Raju nodded toward his competitor and quietly left the stage.
This year’s tournament was Raju’s third time competing in the national bee. He previously tied for 51st place in 2019 and finished 21st in 2021. While he missed out on the competition’s top prize of $50,000, he still earned $25,000 for his second place finish.
Raju said that after the bee, he plans to continue learning about renewable energy projects at his school, Aurora Quest K-8.
In a statement following the finals, the competition commended both finalists’ performances.
“What an incredible display by both spellers,” the organization said. “Unprecedented. Unforgettable. Unbelievable.”
Colorado students have a long history of placing well in the bee. Spellers from the state have won the national competition 7 times — one of the highest champion counts of any state. The most recent winner from Colorado was Pratyush Buddiga, who took home the Scripps Cup in 2002.
This year was the first fully in-person national spelling bee since 2019. Three spellers from Colorado competed, including Raju.
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