8 Wisconsin Students Compete At National Spelling Bee

Students Range In Age From 8 To 14

Maya Jadhav of Fitchburg's Eagle School won first place at the Badger State Bee
Maya Jadhav of Fitchburg’s Eagle School won first place at the Badger State Bee. Photo courtesy of Terra Theim

From spellcheck to autocorrect, we’re rarely challenged to be accurate spellers today, but eight Wisconsin students aren’t letting that convenience keep them from becoming master spellers.

The students, ranging in age from 8 to 14 years old, are competing this week in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland.

Both Maya Jadhav, 10, of Fitchburg and Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya, 8, of Middleton, say the key to correct spelling is in studying the roots.

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“Sometimes using the roots helps,” Wijeyakulasuriya said. “Like if you ask for the origin if it’s a Latin word, it’s normally going to use an S, but if it’s a German word, it normally uses Zs and Ks.”

Jadhav also studies language rules.

That approach came in handy for Jadhav during her first spelling bee in the second grade when she was tasked with spelling “hoity toity” — an experience that sparked her love for competitive spelling.

“The audience clapped a lot because I was a second-grader,” she said. “And then my principal said to my parents, ‘We’ve got a future spelling bee champion there.’”

Wijeyakulasuriya and Jadhav have similar approaches to keeping themselves calm when nerves kick in and the competition starts to feel stressful.

Wijeyakulasuriya’s dad taught him to meditate.

“Sometimes I do it before, and then while I’m doing it I just try to keep myself calm,” he said.

“I also try to keep myself calm,” Jadhav added. “I take deep breaths and tell myself it doesn’t matter how it turns out. You just do your best.”

Both Jadhav and Wijeyakulasuriya feel prepared for the competition, and when they were asked if competing against older kids was intimidating, they were unfazed.

“I’ve probably studied as much as them,” Jadhav said.

“It doesn’t matter your age number, I think it matters how hard you’ve worked on it,” Wijeyakulasuriya continued.

And at the end of the day, Jadhav said it’s about having fun and learning new things.

“Autocorrect doesn’t have all the words and it’s just fun to learn new words, expand our vocabulary and learn about different languages,” she said.

Jadhav and Wijeyakulasuriya are among 565 spellers at the National Spelling Bee, coming from all 50 states, several territories and other countries, including the Bahamas, Canada, Jamaica, Japan, Ghana and South Korea.

Both Wijeyakulasuriya and Jadhav made it past the second round Tuesday, the final round takes place Thursday.

The six other Wisconsin students competing at the National Spelling Bee are:

  • Katherine Bautista, 13, of Fitchburg
  • Julianne Washa, 9, of Highland
  • Spencer Phillips, 13, of McFarland
  • Aryan Kalluvila, 14, of Hubertus
  • Kieran McKinney, 14, of West Salem
  • Immanuel Goveas, 12, of Menomonee Falls

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