The Madison girl who won the state spelling bee Saturday almost didn’t show up for the event, even though she qualified to be there with a victory in last month’s citywide bee.
Aisha Khan, 13, said she felt too upset a few weeks ago after she and her parents returned from a sad visit to India, where they comforted Aisha’s maternal grandmother in the days before she died of cancer at the age of 63.
The grandmother, Asgari Noor, helped raise Aisha, and the girl visited her for three months every summer, so it took some effort to overcome her grief. In the end, Aisha took her place in the state competition because of something her grandmother told her.
“That was the last thing she told me to do, ‘Get first place,’” Aisha said.
Aisha did just that in the state bee, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin State Journal, by outlasting 47 other top spellers from around the state.
Aisha now advances to the national competition in Washington, D.C., held May 26 to June 1.
Her father, Abdul Khader Patan, said Aisha didn’t have much time to study for the state bee because of several trips the family took to visit her grandmother in India in recent months. But Patan said Aisha’s word skills come mostly from a passion for reading rather than spelling drills.
“My job is to take her to the library,” said Patan, a manager at a consulting firm who moved here in 1995 from Bangalore, India. “Any free time she gets, she’s just reading. In every corner, there’s books.”
Aisha also qualified for the statewide Mathcounts competition, but had to forego it because of her grandmother’s death, Patan said.
A student in the seventh grade at Spring Harbor Middle School, Aisha finished second in last year’s state spelling bee.
She said she was a little less nervous this year. On the stage in an auditorium at Edgewood College, she perched on the edge of her chair while others spelled. When her turn came, she gripped the microphone in her right hand and spoke softly and deliberately.
She spelled 17 words, starting with “deluxe” and “discern” and ending with “synusia” (“a structural unit of a major ecological community characterized by relative uniformity of life-form or of height and usually constituting a particular stratum of that community,” according to Merriam-Webster) and “temerarious,” which means reckless or rash.
Aisha, who can read both English and Arabic, said she didn’t know the meanings of some of the more difficult words. But like many of the contestants, she asked the moderator for the language in which the word originated — Dutch, Greek, German, etc. — and was able to deduce the vowels and consonants that produced the words’ sounds.
“Different languages have different rules,” Aisha said.
Other spellers from in and around Dane County included Anders Burck from Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, Erin Bruehlman from Argyle Middle School, Alankrit Shatadal from Badger Ridge Middle School in Verona, Maya Reinfeldt from Savanna Oaks Middle School in Fitchburg, Aaron James D. Rodriguez from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School in Beloit, Connor McNeil from Ithaca Public Schools, and Matthew Randell from Baraboo Middle School.