–by Svetla Tomanova
Every year for the last 16 years, a diverse group of contestants ages 15 or younger flock from across Hampton Roads to the regional spelling bee. During this year’s bee in February, Old
Donation School eighth grader Mihika “Mahi” Sakharpe won third place after three “spell off” rounds. A seventh grader from the Norfolk Academy, Rohith Konduri, was declared the champion of the WHRO Public Media Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word “anathema.” It took 12 rounds to determine the bee champion and runner-up Xynthia Anthony, Yorktown Middle School.
A total of 42 children, eight from the Virginia Beach City Public Schools, came to the WHRO studio to showcase their supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (fantastic) spelling skills; but more importantly, they came to do their best and have fun. Some were exuberant and outgoing, while others were timid and unpretentious. They all had one thing in common though: a love for words, reading and a desire to win the competition.
“We love to celebrate smart kids,” said WHRO’s President and CEO, Bert Schmidt, “and the spelling bee is just one of the numerous ways that WHRO provides opportunities for our best and brightest to shine within their schools and the larger community.”
For many of the students, this was a new experience – one that filled their hearts with excitement and anticipation – but for several, this was their second attempt to reach the coveted champion trophy. They had spent countless hours assiduously studying, memorizing words’ origins and roots, practicing pronunciations and building their confidence.
The contestants also relied on the support of family and friends. Some, like Mahi, used a WordClub app that provided practice with multiple choice, audio and written answer games.
“I usually practice in transit and while chilling between homework!” said the multilingual eighth grader. “My little sister, a wannabe spelling champion, picks up the list and starts quizzing me on words, simulating a competition experience. Practicing and familiarizing myself with all the words has helped alleviate some of that nervousness and transform it into confidence.”
As the contestants filed into the WHRO studio, their parents cheered for them in the teleconference center. When they took their seats and prepared for the competition to begin, they knew that all of their hard work was about to play an important part.
As the rounds progressed, the words became more challenging, and the number of contestants dwindled. Zoe Hardy with Larkspur Middle wasn’t eliminated until the sixth round. By the final rounds, only two contestants remained.
After Konduri spelled the word anathema correctly, he was declared the 2023 Scripps Regional Spelling Bee champion. He took home the champion trophy and receives an expenses-paid trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, an engraved Apple® iPad Mini, The Samuel Louis Sugarman Award of a 2023 U.S. Mint Proof Set, and a one-year subscription to Britannica Online Premium. The runner-up and third-place spellers also received trophies. All bee contestants received a certificate of participation, a Spelling Bee drawstring bag, and a 2023 Spelling Bee commemorative T-shirt.
The regional competition may have ended, but the love for words and the desire to learn more about them will stay forever in these young students – that is their superpower.
The recording of the WHRO Public Media Spelling Bee will air April 1 at 2 p.m. on WHRO. To view the list of participants and to read some fun facts about the Scripps National Spelling Bee, visit this page.
Meet the VBCPS Bees
#11 – Peyton Ndow, Plaza Middle
#16 – Esther Gammill, Virginia Beach Middle
#18 – Siddhiksha Vibushnan, Great Neck Middle
#21 – Amarachukwusom Nwokoji, Landstown Middle
#25 – Zoe Hardy, Larkspur Middle
#33 – Nia Jeffries, Bayside Sixth Grade Campus
#34 – Mihika (Mahi) Sakharpe, Old Donation School
#40 – Iva Quaqau, Princess Anne Middle