2 Wisconsin teens are headed to the Scripps National Spelling Bee

The eighth graders will compete during a nationwide spell-off in May

The top two-finishers pose on a stage with their trophies after the 2024 Badger State Spelling Bee in Madison
Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya, left, and Nethraa Muthupandiyaraja, right, came in first and second place respectively during the 2024 Badger State Spelling Bee on Saturday, March 16 in Madison. The two eighth-graders will represent Wisconsin at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Courtesy of Dinusha Wijeyakulasuriya

Two eighth graders from Wisconsin are advancing to the Scripps National Spelling Bee after spelling their way to statewide victory this weekend.

Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya of Blessed Sacrament School in Madison came in first at the Badger State Spell Bee on Saturday after correctly spelling “prescience,” a word meaning foreknowledge.

Nethraa Muthupandiyaraja of Forest Park Middle School in Franklin was the runner-up, and will also qualify for nationals. She couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

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Fifty spellers in grades three through eight tested their skills during Saturday’s statewide spell-off. The event, which kicked off with a tailgate outside Madison College’s Mitby Theater, was sponsored by the Wisconsin State Journal and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee will take place during the last week of May in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

This year won’t be Aiden’s first time at the national competition. In 2023, he won Wisconsin’s bee, and ended up tying for 21st place after advancing to national semifinals.

Aiden got stung during last year’s bee when asked to define “obviate.” He chose “disguise its true nature.” The answer was “make it unnecessary.”

He also competed at the national level in 2019, and got 51st place, as part of a program that allowed spellers who were eliminated in earlier rounds to apply for spots at the nationwide bee.

Aiden has a driven nature that extends to more than just spelling, said his principal, Steve Castrogiovanni.

“You wouldn’t even know how bright he was because he’s so humble, well rounded,” Castrogiovanni said.

Aiden maintains that anyone has what it takes to spell competitively.

“You don’t have to have any natural talents, and it’s a really fun thing to learn,” he said.

The key, he said, is not to rely on memorization.

“There’s so many words in the dictionary — no one can ever memorize it,” he said. “You have to work towards understanding the word, whether that be through the roots of the word, through the language of origin, through the definition.”

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