Excelling at Spelling: Cooperatives sponsor Arkansas’ annual bee


The 2022 Arkansas State Spelling Bee winners were (from left to right) Lucy Claire Coon of Pulaski County, fifth place (tie); Ahlam Ali Nur of Greene County, fifth place (tie); Charles Akin Johnson of Washington County, fourth place; Aditi Shashidhara of Benton County, first place; Eleanor Christine Huff of White County, second place; and Matthew Brodbent of Cross County, third place.

Quadrillion.” It’s a Round Two word at the March 5 Arkansas State Spelling Bee that means 1,000,000,000,000,000 — a million billion.

It’s also how many words it seems like radio personality and pronouncer Tom Wood has challenged impressive students to spell before a victor finally emerges after two dozen rounds and three-and-a-half hours.

This is the third year the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas has sponsored the competition, a qualifier for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And it’s the first year during the cooperatives’ sponsorship that any of the finalists, let alone the top two, are girls.

But first, let’s have a little “patience,” a Round One word, before we get to the winners. Allow us to “perorate” — a Round Seven word meaning “to speak at length”— about the buzzworthy event.

Busy bees

Contestants compete in the March 5 Arkansas State Spelling Bee at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center.

On this Saturday morning, 52 students representing as many counties have come from all over the state to the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center outside Little Rock. They’ll appear on the auditorium stage before judges Tracy Courage and Priscella Thomas-Scott of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Research and Extension and Dr. Melanie Duerkop of Cabot Public Schools.

Whatever happens, these children, ages 14 and younger, already are, to borrow a Round One word, “superlative.” After all, this contest began with 61,500 students. There’s not a “sluggard,” a practice round word, in the bunch.

As each round builds in anticipation, George Lachowsky of Grant County anxiously awaits his next word.

Speaking of the practice round, it goes smoothly. Only four words (“intertitle,” “yoo-hoo,” “isms” and “punily”) trigger the sad, incorrect sound instead of the cheerful, correct chime. To sum up this round with a word from it: “Yippee!”

But there will be several “evacuees,” after Round One, where that word comes from. Words like “parenthetic,” “turpentine” and “servitude” have managed to “stupefy” a dozen students who now must “skedaddle,” leaving 40 in the competition.

Round Two, with toughies like “dilapidated,” “obstetrician” and “Bethesda,” doesn’t exactly crush the competition to “smithereens,” but it does reduce it by 11 students, leaving 29. Round Three is another “pestilence,” (plague) eliminating eight more students. Round Four is every bit as “malevolent,” (evil, spiteful) followed by a “contumelious” (scornful, insulting) Round Five. About 90 minutes into the competition, only 10 are left.

Uijin Joann Kim of Craighead County uses her hands to “write” out a word before spelling it aloud.

When six unstoppable students remain after Round Seven, it becomes clear that it might be “crepuscular” (relating to twilight) outside before the competition that began at 10 a.m. finally concludes. And when the same six remain after Round Nine, it’s obvious these are some extremely “leonine” — a Round Eight word meaning lion-like — competitors.

The bee’s knees

By Round 12, it’s down to three spellers: Eleanor Christine Huff of White County; Matthew Brodbent of Cross County; and Aditi Shashidhara of Benton County. They continue crushing the most complex of terms. In Round 17, the word “gattine” — defined by Merriam-Webster.com as “an epidemic and fatal disease of silkworms” — becomes a fatal blow for Matthew’s competition. It’s Eleanor and Aditi in the final two, battling it out by seeing one’s “triskelion” (an ancient Celtic symbol of three connected spirals) and raising her a “charcuterie” (prepared meats or a shop that sells them).

In Round 22, a misspelling of the word “bassarisk” (raccoon-like mammal) proves risky for Eleanor. But because Aditi, who spells her next word correctly, misspells her championship word, the Bee continues.

In Round 24, Eleanor stumbles on “oblocutor” (disputer). Aditi nails “anther” (a botanical term) and her championship word — “strophic” (a musical term) — to become the winner.

As second-place winner, Eleanor receives a runner-up plaque and $300 cash prize.

Taking home $100 cash prizes are: third-place winner Matthew; fourth-place place winner Charles Akin Johnson (Washington County); and fifth-place winners Lucy Claire Coon (Pulaski County) and Ahlam Ali Nur (Greene County).

With a smile of relief, winner Aditi Shashidhara looks for her parents after correctly spelling her championship word, ”strophic.“

This was the first time for Aditi, a 12-year-old seventh grader at Haas Hall Academy of Bentonville, to compete in the State Bee.

“So, I looked up all the words. I practiced on the website, and I had my parents and sometimes my friends quiz me. And I left it all to luck,” she says about her preparation with a little giggle. “I didn’t expect to win. I thought I was going to maybe make it to the Top 10 or something.”

While TV often gets a bad rap for distracting students from their studies, the Netflix documentary Spelling the Dream inspired Aditi to participate.

“When she was practicing, she’d watch that movie every week,” says Aditi’s proud father, Eswaraiah Shashidhara.

“Every week!” confirms Aditi’s equally excited mother, Ramya.

As winner, Aditi receives the 2022 Arkansas State Spelling Bee Champion Plaque, a $575 cash prize, a 2022 U.S. Mint Proof Set and a one-year subscription for Britannica Online Premium and Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online. Most importantly, she’ll represent Arkansas in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and have a chance at winning $50,000 among other prizes. The 2022 finals, which will take place near Washington, D.C., will be broadcast on ION and Bounce on June 2.

Rob Roedel, corporate communications director for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, says, “The hard work and dedication that the participants put into preparing for the event is impressive, along with their ability to excel under competitive pressure at the State Spelling Bee. The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas are honored to support them and will continue to invest in our great state by sponsoring events that inspire the future leaders of our local communities.”

As for why spelling is still relevant in these days of spell-check and autocorrect, Aditi says, “I think it’s important because we still need to learn with our minds. Learning word origins helped me learn a lot in other areas as well.”

For example, it helps with science, another passion for Aditi, who shares that her career plans include being “maybe a neurosurgeon or a climate scientist.”

We know she’ll “bee” successful, whatever she chooses.