14 from NC compete in Scripps National Spelling Bee

New rules, youngest-ever participant highlight 2017 competition

Jack Gruber—USA TODAY Network
Casper Smith of Clayon

OXON HILL, Md. — The 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee got underway Wednesday with 291 word whizzes vying for the top prize, including the contest’s youngest-ever competitor.Competing for a $40,000 first-place cash prize, spelling virtuosos ranging in age from 6 to 15 began facing off at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. The contest concludes with finals on Thursday at the Washington-area resort.Fourteen North Carolinians are participating in the event, ranging in age from an 11-year-old 5th-grader to two 15-year-old 8th-graders, all from different counties across the state.The contestants include Edith Fuller of Tulsa, Okla., who recently turned 6 and is the youngest participant to qualify for the national spelling bee. Her smiling face and blonde curls appear in a photograph on spellingbee.com, where she is identified as Speller No. 290.Fuller is one of more than 11 million youths who competed in earlier spelling bees in all 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories from Puerto Rico to Guam, and several nations from Jamaica to Japan, contest officials said in a news release. Only six states — Illinois (18), Ohio (18), Texas (17), California (16), New York (16) and Florida (15) — had more contestants than North Carolina.N.C.’s 14 participants are:Nathaniel Barnes, Wilson, 13, 7th grade, James Lee SchoolGabrielle Brown, Salisbury, 15, 8th grade, Rowan County Homeschool AssociationEthan Greenley, Franklin, 12, 6th grade, Macon G.E.M.S.Haven Griggs, Lawndale, 14, 8th grade, Burns Middle SchoolElizabeth Muller, Frisco, 13, 7th grade, Cape Hatteras Secondary SchoolAkshra Paimagam, Charlotte, 14, 8th grade, Randolph Middle SchoolKrutik Patel, Rocky Mount, 14, 8th grade, Rocky Mount AcademyRohan Sachdev, Cary, 14, 8th grade, Carnage Middle SchoolChad Saunders, Belmont, 15, 8th grade, Gaston Day SchoolCasper Smith, Clayton, 13, 8th grade, Clayton Middle SchoolJason Sorin*, Durham, 11, 5th grade, Triangle Day SchoolPaarth Tara, Mebane, 13, 7th grade, Woodlawn Middle SchoolHelena Thompson, Sanford, 12, 7th grade, Highland Middle SchoolKendal Win, Fayetteville, 12, 7th grade, Pine Forest Middle SchoolNew rules this year are aimed at preventing tie endings like last year’s, when joint winners both got $40,000 cash prizes.Bee officials will administer a Tiebreaker Test to all spellers in the competition at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The test will consist of 12 spelling words, which contestants will handwrite, and 12 multiple-choice vocabulary questions.If it is mathematically impossible for one champion to emerge through 25 rounds, officials will declare the speller with the highest tiebreaker score the winner. If there is a tie on the test, judges will declare co-champions.The competition started in 1925, when 11-year-old Frank Neuhauser correctly spelled the name of the flower “gladiolus” to become the first national champion.This year is the 90th national Bee, after finals were suspended due to World War II from 1943-1945, according to contest officials.”What started as a quaint contest with nine students has flourished into a national treasure where hard work is recognized and rewarded, and the lessons learned can last a lifetime,” said Paige Kimble, the Bee’s executive director.