After competing against nearly 50 of the top young spellers in Wisconsin, 11-year-old Maya Jadhav won the Badger State Spelling Bee on Saturday for the second year running.
The Fitchburg phenom won the competition and a ticket to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland by correctly spelling “panchax,” a common aquarium fish native to southern Asia. Maya, a sixth-grader at Eagle School, also took top honors last year as a fifth-grader and won third place in 2018.
Following her victory, Maya admitted that she had been “pretty nervous” ahead of Saturday’s Badger State Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Wisconsin State Journal, in Mitby Theater at Madison Area Technical College.
“I really wanted to go to nationals, because I went last year,” she said, adding that anything less would have been a disappointment.
Adding to the perceived pressure, only the first-place winner is proceeding to the national competition. In previous years, a few of the top finishers in Wisconsin moved on.
Maya’s parents, Nitin Jadhav and Terra Theim, said they’ll make another family trip out of going to nationals in late May. Jadhav said his daughter takes the competition “very seriously.” Last year, Maya made it to the final round and tied for 41st place in the country.
Tying for second place in the Badger State Spelling Bee were Immanuel Goveas, a seventh-grader at North Middle School in Menomonee Falls, and Vaughn Schneider, of Stanley-Boyd Area Schools in Stanley. All of the remaining contestants except for Maya misspelled a word in the final round, so the runners-up were determined by a compensatory round in which students were tasked with spelling 25 words on paper.
Vaughn, 14, had previously competed in the Badger State Spelling Bee as a sixth-grader, and studied hard for this year, his last chance before aging out of the bee.
His parents, Jeff and Michelle Schneider, were proud that he went out on a high note.
“I think he did fantastic,” Michelle Schneider said. “He studied for two years; all we did was study.”
Vaughn said he’d been confident in his spelling until the final round, when pronouncer Brad Williams gave him the word “agrypnia.” He was also sort of worried about the vocabulary rounds, which test understanding rather than pure spelling ability.
Underscoring the uncertain nature of the competition, Matthew Brock, who won first place at the All-City Spelling Bee last month, was eliminated in the second round for misspelling “valiant.”
Other tricky elimination words included “capillary,” “tabernacle,” “aqueduct” and “raptatorial.” Some contestants were clearly relieved to leave the stage, while others were visibly devastated when judge Joyce Kaping rang the bell.
After getting dinged for stumbling over the word “vitreous,” Jimmy Quiney, of Hudson Middle School, told the audience that “the bell’s a lot less pleasant when you’re on the receiving end.”
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is set for May 24-29 in National Harbor, Maryland. For Maya, it will be a chance to improve upon her already impressive performance.
“You’ll be representing the whole state,” her father told her. “No pressure.”
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the word that Jimmy Quiney misspelled. The word was "vitreous."]
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