Dev Shah : From Spelling Struggles to National Spelling Bee Triumph

Dev Shah : From Spelling Struggles to National Spelling Bee Triumph

Oxon Hill, Maryland - Dev Shah, a soft-spoken yet self-assured 14-year-old from Largo, Florida, demonstrated his mastery of obscure Greek roots and breezed through his second-to-last word to secure victory at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night.

Dev's journey in the world of spelling encountered setbacks due to the pandemic, and he fell short of advancing past the regional bee last year. However, this year, he persevered through a fiercely competitive regional competition, earning himself a third and final opportunity to compete for the national championship. To his delight, he ultimately held the trophy aloft as confetti showered upon him.

The word that sealed Dev's triumph was "psammophile," a term that posed no significant challenge for a speller of his caliber. Displaying his astute approach, Dev sought clarification on its meaning, questioning, "Psammo, meaning sand, Greek? Phile, meaning love, Greek?"

Immersing himself in the moment, Dev requested the word to be used in a sentence, a tactic he had humorously referred to as a way to buy time. Overwhelmed with emotion, he covered his face with his hands upon being announced as the winner.

Claiming the runner-up position was Charlotte Walsh, a 14-year-old from Arlington, Virginia, who warmly embraced Dev in a congratulatory hug. Having previously participated in the bee in 2019 and 2021, Dev had formed close bonds with many of his fellow finalists.

"They've all been part of numerous online bees and previous Scripps National Spelling Bees, and I felt a special connection and camaraderie among all of us," he expressed. "I am immensely grateful and privileged to have shared this final spelling bee experience with them."

Fifteen months ago, the prospect of Dev's return was far from certain. His regional bee experience last year was disheartening, enduring a grueling five-hour spelling ordeal in damp and chilly weather at an open-air soccer stadium in Orlando, ultimately finishing fourth.

"It took me approximately four months to regain my focus," he recounted. "There was a point where I questioned whether I wanted to continue."

When only Dev and Charlotte remained as the final two contestants, Scripps introduced the buzzer, utilized for the "spell-off" tiebreaker, which momentarily perplexed Dev when he stepped up to the microphone.

With a hint of uncertainty, Dev sought clarification by asking, "This isn't the spell-off, is it?" Upon being informed that it was not, he proceeded to spell "bathypitotmeter" with such speed that it seemed akin to a spell-off, showcasing his understated confidence on stage.

"I practiced for the spell-off every day, I suppose. I was aware that it could occur, so I made sure to prepare for all possibilities, which sort of put me in a spell-off mindset," Dev explained. "However, I also felt a sense of apprehension towards the spell-off."

Dev's victory not only earned him more than $50,000 in cash and prizes but also solidified his position as the 22nd champion of South Asian heritage in the last 24 years. His father, Deval, migrated from India to the United States 29 years ago as a software engineer to pursue a master's degree in electrical engineering. Over the years, Deval has also obtained an MBA from the University of Florida. Dev's older brother, Neil, is currently a rising junior at Yale University.

Deval proudly shared that Dev's exceptional word recall abilities were evident from the age of 3. Dev dedicated numerous years to participating in academic competitions organized by the North South Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers scholarships to children in India.

Challenging Words and Impressive Depth: 2023 National Spelling Bee

In the 98-year history of the national spelling bee, which welcomes students up to the eighth grade, spellers earn their spots by triumphing in regional competitions across the country. This year, 229 young champions took the stage at the national bee, a remarkable feat considering the staggering participation of 11 million students at the school level.

Although the bee may have been scaled down and the competition field not as extensive as in pre-pandemic years, the finalists of this year's event showcased an astonishing depth of knowledge as they navigated through a deviously challenging word list.

The selection of words demonstrated that the competition can remain entertaining while delving deeper into the dictionary than ever before. Particularly in the second spelling round of the finals, Scripps presented contestants with short yet formidable words like "traik" (to fall ill, used in Scotland), "carey" (a small to medium-sized sea turtle), and "katuka" (a venomous snake of southeastern Asia).

As the field narrowed to four participants, Shradha Rachamreddy stumbled on "orle," a term in heraldry denoting a number of small charges arranged to form a border within the edge of a field (she mistakenly spelled it as "orel"). Surya Kapu's journey came to an end with the word "kelep" — a Central American stinging ant — as he mistakenly spelled it as "quelep."

While Scripps' inclusion of trademarks and geographical names may provoke criticism from traditionalists who believe the focus should solely be on mastering roots and language patterns, as well as their exceptions, Scripps has made it clear that any entry in Merriam-Webster's Unabridged dictionary, excluding archaic or obsolete words, is fair game for the competition.

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