Neha Kodali has had a knack for spelling for a long time, though she’s often too humble to admit it.
“I don’t think so,” Neha said when asked if she’s always been a top speller. “Anyways, I’m not supposed to say even if I was.”
In March, she was the last person standing in 40 rounds of the Columbia Missourian Regional Spelling Bee. This week, the rising eighth-grader from Columbia Independent School stood tall among 565 competitors at the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Although Neha did not make the finals, she nailed her onstage rounds, spelling “plumeria” and “cogency” correctly.
It was her first time in the nation’s capital, a place she had wanted to visit “since forever, since I was 6 at least,” Neha said.
Although her mother, Aparna Kodali, had been before, this particular trip had a special meaning.
“It’s amazing, I mean, this time it was really because of her that I came to Washington, D.C.” Aparna Kodali said.
“Just seeing all the spellers checking in in the lobby — I mean, we know that almost every kid there in that hotel is a speller.”
In preparation for the big-time bee, Neha made it a priority to be consistent in her spelling practice.
“I studied the round two spelling words because all the round two words come from a list, and the book called ‘Words of Wisdom,’” Neha said. Her practice continued throughout the bee.
Although it was her first time on a national stage, Neha handled the experience like a veteran.
For the preliminary test Monday, she said she was “hardly nervous because no one was watching.” She described her first onstage round as “exhilarating.”
During her final round, however, Neha said she felt “extremely nervous” — but she crushed her word anyway.
Watching her daughter succeed in both onstage rounds was not only a relief but “a very happy moment,” Aparna Kodali said.
The 50 finalists were selected based not only on their onstage rounds but on the results of their preliminary test. It took 5½ hours to narrow the field from 50 contestants to 16.
Although Neha didn’t make the finals, she said she is proud of her achievement and feels good knowing that, yes, there is always next year.
She even made some new friends. “It was fun,” Neha said. “We related to each other more than in school because we were spellers.”
To celebrate her success, Neha and her mother concluded their trip by exploring Washington, including visits to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum before watching the finals on Thursday.
This year, eight top spellers made history after the Scripps National Spelling Bee pronounced them all co-champions in the final round.
Why eight champs? They ran out of words.
The rules going into this year’s bee called for, at most, three co-champions. A contingency plan for even more winners was developed on the fly Thursday afternoon.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.