Before Dev Shah correctly spelled psammophile to win the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee, his home state of Florida had been without a national spelling bee champion for more than two decades.
Even with his state’s reputation on the line, Dev, a 14-year-old speller from Largo, Florida, said he didn’t let the gravity of the moment weigh too heavily on him. His goal, as he explained, centered on maintaining focus on the here and now.
That mindset, Dev told The Informer, allowed him to clinch victory in front of thousands of people, including his parents and spelling coach Scott Remer, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland on the night of June 1.
“This was my third year. There were a lot of ups and downs and a lot of nerves, but I’m learning to take everything one step at a time,” Dev told The Informer moments after defeating Charlotte Walsh of Arlington, Virginia in the final round. “The future is great, but the present is what matters. Staying in the present is a work in progress but the spelling bee helped it.”
A Calm, but Intense, Battle
Dev counted among 11 finalists who graced the stage on Thursday night for two hours of competition.
Those who joined Dev and Charlotte included: Dhruv Subramanian of San Ramon, California; Vikrant Chintanaboina and Shradha Rachamreddy of San Jose, California; Arth Dalsania of Camarillo, California; Aryan Khedkar of Rochester Hills, Michigan; Sarah Fernandes of Omaha, Nebraska; Pranav Anandh of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania; Tarini Nandakumar of Round Rock, Texas; and Surya Kapu of South Jordan, Utah.
Among the 11 finalists, eight of them, including Dev and previous fifth-place winner Surya, have had at least one other go around at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Dev, an eighth grader, also counted among six spellers in their last year of eligibility.
Another crucial factoid: Sarah, 11, was the youngest finalist.
On Thursday, the finalists hashed it out for six rounds. Sarah and Pranav were eliminated in the first round when they misspelled “leguleian” and “querken,” respectively.
During the second round, spellers had to choose the correct definition of words selected by Dr. Jacques Bailley, 1980 national spelling bee champion and the official pronouncer of the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee. During that bout, Tarini fell to the wayside when she incorrectly spelled “chthonic,” an adjective that means “belonging to the underworld.”
Between the third and fifth rounds, the field of spellers slowly winnowed with Arth, an aspiring astrophysicist, misspelling “katuka,” a Sanskrit word defined as “sharp or bitter.” In the fourth round, Dhruv, Vikrant and Aryan were eliminated when they misspelled “crenel,” “pataca,” and “pharetrone,” respectively.
Shradha and Surya, eliminated in the fifth round, clinched the third place spot when they misspelled “orle” and “kelep,” respectively.
During the last round, Charlotte misspelled “daviely,” a Scottish adverb meaning listlessly. This set the stage for Dev’s victory at just two minutes after 10 p.m. on Thursday night. Just seconds after Dev became national spelling bee champion, Charlotte hugged him under the heavy pouring of confetti as audience members bursted into raucous applause.
Washington Informer Spelling Bee Winners Speak
The 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which started on May 30, started with 231 spellers, some of whom either returned to the bee or followed in the footsteps of older siblings who’ve competed at the national level.
Over time, 121 advanced to the quarterfinals, and later only 56 went on to the semifinals. The number of semifinalists this year, compared to last year, increased by nearly 20%.
For the 41st consecutive year, The Washington Informer sponsored spellers at the national bee.
Jerald Jude Campana, an eighth grader at St. Albans School for Boys in Northwest, won the Washington Informer Citywide Spelling Bee at the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music & Entertainment in Northeast this past spring.
Miles away, at the University of Maryland Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Maryland, Lesly Hernandez Martin, an eighth grader at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover, Maryland, clinched the top spot at The Informer’s Prince George’s County spelling bee.
Jerald and Lesly counted among the hundreds who gave it their all at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. In the first round, Lesly was eliminated when she misspelled “bundt,” a noun defined as a ring-shaped cake made in a tube pan. Jerald later misspelled “revehent,” defined as carrying away from an organ or structure toward the heart, during the sixth round.
In thinking back on her spelling bee journey, Lesly expressed gratitude for being able to share the moment with her parents, two siblings, and litany of god siblings who accompanied her to the Gaylord.
For Lesly, it all started earlier this school year when she skeptically responded to a call for participants in her school spelling bee. She had since then advanced through levels of the competition, first at the school level, then later at The Informer’s Prince George’s County Spelling Bee.
Along the way to the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Lesly correctly spelled moped, legislature, chaotic, cantankerous, and finally quintessential. While at the Gaylord, Lesly not only studied for her competition, but took part in various group activities, including the Rule the World Challenge, where she and other spellers, some of whom she has since befriended, navigated different kingdoms to solve different puzzles.
“I think I’m the first one in my school to ever make it this far to the bee. It’s such an accomplishment,” Lesly said. “I will remember for the rest of my life, and I hope I inspire other kids to [compete in the spelling bee]. When I went to take my finals, my friends and the bus driver were really happy. My teachers almost had a heart attack.”
On Thursday, Jerald, a semi-finalist, pivoted his attention to the 11 spellers who made it to the end, wishing them nothing but success and hoping they had fun in the heat of battle.
Months earlier, Jerald paved his way to the Gaylord by correctly spelling “whereas,” “hexagonal,” “wu shu,” “thimerosal,” “emolument,” “tenon,” “Mediterranean,” “ivermectin,” “mascarpone,” “exchequer,” “bailiwick,” and finally “coup de grace,” at The Informer’s citywide spelling bee. All in all, Jerald said he had a great time stretching the limits of what he could accomplish on the national stage.
With the national spelling bee behind him, Jerald, in his last year of eligibility, expressed plans to rest and reflect on this chapter in his life.
“I learned to be confident and put on my game face to be ready for anything,” Jerald said. “I was happy about my results. The experience was incredible. The preparation takes a lot. Those who are competing should work hard for what they want. I encourage them to do their best.”