The North South Bee was held at the University of Texas-Dallas on August 16th, and it took place amid a flurry of activity. The spelling bee is not the only competition that took place; other competitions over both August 16th and the 17th included geography, essay writing, public speaking, science, math, vocabulary, and even a bee dedicated to knowledge of the human brain. And even the spelling bee itself was divided into junior (students about to begin 3rd-5th grade) and senior (6th-8th grade) divisions. As such, the hallways of numerous buildings were a scene of controlled chaos. Bright-eyed and eager volunteers happily helped people find their way around the campus, served food, and kept all the proceedings running as smoothly as possible. And the whole event took place with a minimum of fanfare and media; compared with the pomp and circumstance of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the North South Foundation Bee is small, but spunky and informal.
Scripps has long abandoned a simple oral, miss-and-you're-out framework for its national bee, instead instituting a series of oral and written tests that is deftly organized despite seeming confusing to the outsider. And so it is with the North South Spelling Bee. In both junior and senior bees, there are three phases. Phase I is a written test consisting of 30 words; 10 of these words are taken directly from a list of 1000 words given to all spellers beforehand. All spellers move on to Phase II. In this phase, the spellers are divided up into groups of ten, moved to separate lecture rooms, and all are given three rounds of words. Each group receives the exact same list of words, and all spellers receive three words, regardless of whether they spell correctly or not. Based on their performance up to that point, this year, the top 13 spellers in the senior division were declared finalists, and moved on to Phase III. (I only attended the senior bee.)
Interestingly, four of the 13 final rounds saw no speller eliminated, speaking well to the caliber of finalists. 2009 Scripps champion Kavya Shivashankar was the excellent pronouncer for phases I and III of the senior bee. A bevy of other past bee aficionados, including past Scripps champions Sai Gunturi and Sameer Mishra, as well as longtime bee favorites Samir Patel and Chetan Reddy, all pronounced words for Phase II. In the final rounds, competitors were felled by words like "bonhomous," "friseur," and "heterostrophy." In Round 12, only Siddharth Krishnakumar, a stoic speller from Pearland, TX about to enter 7th grade, was the only one standing after nailing "phalangette," and as such, was declared the champion. In this round, Vaishnavi Suren (from Jacksonville, FL) missed "Paracelsian," and Lipika Narisetti (from Hilliard, OH) missed "soboliferous." Since it is the policy of North South not to have ties, both girls moved on to Round 13. Lipika missed "adiaphonon," while Vaishnavi landed "Ichabod," making her the runner-up and giving Lipika third place. Keep your eye out for each of these girls; their futures look bright.
Each year, the North-South Foundation holds its national competitions in a different location. Last year, they took place at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. There are preliminary rumblings that they may be held somewhere in Ohio in 2015. And as long as the North South Foundation continues to maintain their commitment to academic excellence - both here in the United States and in India - it is a guarantee that Indian-American children will continue to be a dominant force academically and professionally...from the smallest and most local of spelling bees to the highest and most complex of professions.