Former finalists compete for the national Spelling Bee championship

Spelling number. 4 didn’t have much time to be nervous before it was her turn on the mic on Wednesday. She got up from her seat and walked over.

The word that greeted Aliyah Alpert in the quarterfinals of the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee was heresiology.

She exhaled slowly. She knew this one.

She said each letter one at a time. The competition hall at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor was quiet.

Heresiology“She says.

“That’s right,” Chief Justice Mary Brooks said to applause from the audience.

The Phoenix eighth-grader was one of six returning finalists vying for the 2024 title in the bee’s 95th year. As the competition progressed, one speller after another entered the microphone. The ringing of the elimination bell ended many of their efforts.

Every time a contestant was eliminated, Aliyah would extend her hand to give them a congratulatory high-five. But as the chairs emptied around her, her discomfort grew.

“There were a lot of words I didn’t know,” she later said. “This makes me so nervous.”

This isn’t Aliyah’s first national bee. She was a finalist in the eighth round of the competition in 2022, where she was eliminated by ajivika, a Sanskrit word designating a school of Indian philosophy.

But now Aliyah was on her way out of the competition. It was his last chance to fight for the brightly colored Scripps Cup and $50,000 in winnings. And the competition was tough.

Shradha Rachamreddy, 14, sitting a few chairs to Aliyah’s right, had been favored to win.

But by the end of the semifinals on Wednesday, only one former finalist remained.

Two hundred and forty-five spellers took the stage this week. They came from all 50 states as well as Washington DC, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Ghana sent a contingent of three students to compete.

In the corridor of champions, former winners were immortalized on colorful banners hung from the ceiling. Attendees, parents and supporters leaned around tables making posters and writing notes of encouragement that they pinned to signs outside the main event:

“Proud of every spelling!” »

“Getting here is a huge accomplishment. »

“Eat your wheat and say your prayers!” »

Several competitors from the Washington, D.C. area, including Navya Dwivedi, 13, of Columbia, Maryland; and Nargiza Muzhapaer, 13, of Merrifield, Virginia; reached the semi-finals. But by the end of Wednesday, all local spellers had been eliminated.

Nargiza, a seventh grader, had never participated in a national bee competition. Her father, Muzaffar Mirzat, said she had been very nervous before the start of the quarter-finals on Wednesday morning.

As he watched his daughter spell word after word correctly, Mirzat teetered on the edge of his seat. He couldn’t believe how far she was coming, he said. When the announcer gave him the word schlichhe watched her as she tried to understand her German roots.

“I’m so proud,” he said.

Throughout the day, parents followed their children into the event rooms. Some consoled spellers in tears after painful eliminations. Others gathered their competitors into group hugs.

The semifinals began Wednesday afternoon with 45 spellers competing, including five former national finalists.

As a booming voice echoed through the competition room – “30 seconds,” it announced – Aliyah grimaced, hands clasped tightly in her knees.

“Our first speller is from Phoenix, Arizona,” announced Jacques Bailly, the national bee’s longtime pronouncer and its 1980 champion.

As Aliyah slowly walked to the front of the stage, the crowd fell silent.

His next word: atticotomy.

She asked for the definition (a surgical incision in the small upper part of the middle ear), its original language (Greek), and possible alternative pronunciations (none).

Aliyah looked up, scanning the ceiling as she thought.

“Does this contain the Greek root Attica meaning a place? » asked Aliyah.

“You’re on the right track,” Bailly said.

Aliyah’s eyes widened. “Wait,” she said, “Really?”

Atticotomy? she guessed.

“That’s correct,” the judge said.

As the music played and the judges gathered more words for another round, Aliyah swung her legs from her chair and chatted with Shradha, 14, from Danville, California.

Both girls were doing their last races at a championship. And they were so close.

Then came the eighth round and with it Shraddha’s first spelling mistake, And Aliyah’s biggest fear: a word she didn’t know.

It was omao. Its origin is Hawaiian. It is, says Bailly, a kind of bird.

The audience held their collective breath. Aliyah closed her eyes, her fingers moving as if she were typing on an invisible keyboard.

Omau?“she offered.

She felt she was wrong as soon as the letters left her lips.

His eyes fell, his head shook slightly.


A previous version of this article misspelled Muzaffar Mirzat’s name. This article has been corrected.

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