Six Indian Americans in 12 finalists at the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition

Live telecast of finals tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Tonight is the finals of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee – or, as comedian Hari Kondabolu once called it, “the Indian Super Bowl.”

It’s not surprising that he’d call it that; although it’s an American competition open to students from all over the country, students of Indian origin have dominated the competition by a significant margin over the last several years. In fact, in both 2012 and 2013, all the top three contestants were of Indian origin.

From 2008-2013, the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been Indian American: Sameer Mishra, Kavya Shivashankar, Anamika Veeramani, Sukanya Roy, Snigdha Nandipati, and Arvind Mahankali. Since 1999, only five winners have not been of Indian descent, meaning 67% of winners over the last 15 years have been Indian.

This year, out of 12 championship finalists, six are of Indian origin; each student is sponsored by a newspaper or community organization in the area, and one is even sponsored by a university in Texas:

  • Sriram Hathwar – Age 14, Grade 8 – Alternative School for Math and Science (Painted Post, New York).
  • Neha Konakalla – Age 14, Grade 8 – Sam H. Lawson Middle School (Cupertino, California).
  • Tejas Muthusamy – Age 11, Grade 5 – Rivers Edge Elementary School (Glen Allen, Virginia).
  • Ansun Sujoe – Age 13, Grade 7 – Bethesda Christian School (Fort Worth, Texas).
  • Ashwin Veeramani – Age 14, Grade 8 – Incarnate Word Academy (North Royalton, Ohio).
  • Gokul Venkatachalam – Age 13, Grade 7 – Parkway West Middle School (Chesterfield, Missouri).

The competition, which is open to children up through middle school, now has at least a 50% chance of being won by an Indian-origin contestant. Even the younger ones, such as Muthusamy, will likely return to the competition if they don’t win this year, as repeats are typical.

The 12 total finalists were whittled down from 281 total contestants. The winner will walk away with a $30,000 cash prize and a trophy, as well as a $2,500 savings bond from Merriam-Webster and $1,200 worth of reference works from Encyclopedia Brittanica.

The finals will be telecast tonight live from 8 p.m. onwards on ESPN.

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