The number 13 isn’t considered lucky by most people, but it is not likely Hudson Middle School sixth-grader Riya Hegde feels that way today.
Wearing her No. 13 position tag at the Akron Beacon Journal Regional Spelling Bee in Akron-Summit County Public Library's auditorium Saturday afternoon, Riya captured the top prize by defeating 30 other spellers, including Hudson Middle eighth-grader Anna Liu, last year’s regional bee champion and this year’s runner-up.
Anna will assume Riya’s place at nationals if the regional champ is unable to compete, according to Tara Kerscher, the Beacon Journal's newspaper educational manager and event coordinator.
Both good friends were all smiles after their tense “spelling duel” since both will attend the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 26-31 at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in National Harbor, Md., where Anna lost in the third round last year.
The Beacon Journal, which has sponsored the regional bee since 1925, covering schools throughout Summit, Medina, Portage and Wayne counties, will provide Riya with an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the competition.
Riya’s parents are Vishvas and Nikita Hegde. Anna’s parents are Peijun and Lingping Liao.
With parents, siblings and friends applauding and beaming with pride, they received plaques and other items signifying their accomplishments.
The victory for Riya came in the 19th round when she correctly spelled “marmite,” meaning a usually ceramic pot used for making soup.
Only Riya and Anna were still standing after their peers had been eliminated by the end of round 12.
In round 13, Anna spelled “lexigraphy” correctly but Riya missed “effectuate,” meaning Anna needed to spell a word in round 14 to win. However, she misspelled “suffuse,” keeping Riya in the contest.
Both correctly spelled their words through rounds 15-17, but in round 18 Anna misspelled “doughty” and Riya rightly spelled “elver,” meaning Riya had to spell “marmite” correctly in round 19, which she did.
They hugged and congratulated each other as pronouncer Tom Stephan, retired Stow-Munroe Falls educator and the bee’s pronouncer for almost 30 years, told the audience he was fearful he might run out of the words provided by Scripps.
Beginning his remarks after being introduced by Michael Shearer, the new editor of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com, Stephan revealed he had told the competitors before coming onstage that “you are all champions and that’s how you all got here.”
When Riya was asked about her feelings after defeating her friend, she said: “I can’t really believe it since it was my first time in the bee. I have been studying hard, and Anna and I studied together a lot.”
Asked about being the runner-up and not the champion this year, Anna commented, “It still feels good. I still get an award, and I will probably go to the national spelling bee for having won the school bee.”
Karen Weber, assistant principal at Hudson Middle School, said: “I am so excited for our students. We had five of six Hudson Middle students in today’s competition.
“As each round progressed, I became more and more nervous. I am so proud of these girls, to have a sixth- and eighth-grader who studied a great deal together.”
Weber also mentioned that other Hudson Middle students were in other competitions Saturday, including Destination Imagination, in which Riya competed.
Judges for the event were Yuvonne Bruce, Beacon Journal deputy metro editor; Nikki Hawk of the Summa Foundation; and Valerie Sherman of Akron-Summit County Public Library.
George W. Davis can be reached at email@example.com.