For Trishala Kumar, spelling seems to run in the family.
Gayatri and Kris Kumar watched as their daughter, an eighth-grader from American Heritage School in Plantation, spelled the word “monody,” the championship word in the 75th annual Miami Herald Spelling Bee for middle school students in Broward County.
She hesitated, carefully pronouncing each letter: M-O-N-O-D-Y.
Moments later, she was named champion.
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“It was more nerve-wracking for me,” said Gayatri Kumar, Trishala’s mother. “I couldn’t spell half those words.”
(“Monody,” incidentally, can refer to a poem lamenting someone’s death or, in music, a single-line solo, often an ode in a Greek tragedy.)
Trishala, 13, wasn’t the only one in her family taking home a trophy. Her brother, Rohan Kumar, placed second in the Broward elementary school competition Tuesday morning. He is in the fifth grade at American Heritage.
Both competitors said they studied using the Scripps website. And Trishala gave her own advice to Spelling Bee aficionados.
“I think the hardest thing is probably the pronunciation for me and all the homonyms, so just learn the pronunciations,” she said, “and learn the rules for all the languages because there’s little rules for each language that are kind of different.”
She said she sometimes spells out words on her hand to help her figure it out.
As for her winning word, she said she just sounded it out. She said she never expected to come this far. Her reward is a trip to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
“I’m really happy,” she said about her upcoming trip.
The Spelling Bee brought out some of the best spellers in Broward. Miami-Dade students will compete Wednesday for the same chance to attend the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Both events are sponsored by Burger King Worldwide Inc.
Akash Deo, 12, a sixth-grader at North Broward Preparatory School, placed second in the middle school competition after a tense back-and-forth between him and Trishala. Aidan Veghte, 11, a sixth-grader at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, took third place.
Participants in both the elementary and middle school competitions started off the event with a written test. Those who scored highest on the written test took part in the oral competition.
As they were waiting for the competition to begin, competitors did some last-minute cramming, looked over some of their hardest words and had their parents quiz them.
During the bee, parents sat on the edge of their seats, silently cheering and applauding when they spelled a word correctly. Competition was tense, with some walking off-stage in tears when they didn’t spell a word right. During the competition, the judges replayed the tape at a few points to make sure they made the right call.
Some students even had signs to cheer on their friends in the bee. Students from Salah Tawfik Elementary and Middle School in Sunrise came out with their class to cheer on classmate Rajaae Merzolugui, who didn’t make it to the final round.
Islam Kader, the fourth-grade teacher at the school, said Rajaae was excited when he found out her classmates would be there.
“We decided to come and support,” Kader said. “I was surprised I don’t see other students.”
The middle school competition was the second spelling face-off of the day.
In the elementary school round, which started at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, fourth-grader Serenity Miller from Wilton Manors Elementary took first place.
Her winning word: egotistical.
“It’s awesome,” she said, holding her trophy up.
Serenity said she used a program to help test her spelling and learned about the origins of some words.
The elementary winner does not move on to any further competition, though. Competitors who don’t make it to first place can return to the bee next year. Aidan, who placed third in the middle school competition this year, won the elementary school bee last year.
“I just want to try to make it to D.C.,” he said, “so I can meet all the famous people there.”
As a sixth-grader, Aidan still has two more opportunities to make it to the Scripps competition. The Spelling Bee ends after eighth grade.
With hard work, Aidan said he’s motivated to get there.
“We’re very very proud of him,” said Aidan’s father, Andrew Veghte.