WAXHAW, N.C. — For Sreethan Gajula, playing the clarinet takes practice.
It also takes practice to earn a spot as a finalist in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“It's just really humbling,” he said. “I was ecstatic, along with my family.”
Sreethan is now one of the 11 finalists in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Canceled last year because of the pandemic, it’s back this year. It is scheduled to take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, near Disney World in Florida, on July 8.
“I believe the difference between a good speller and really mastering the art of spelling is their comprehension of language rules,” Sreethan said.
It’s been a whirlwind journey for Sreethan, who will be the first finalist in the bee from North Carolina in decades.
“I've gotten so much support from my community, my teachers, my friends, my school, my county, just from random people all over North Carolina and over the nation,” he said.
He also got a message from one special NFL player for the Carolina Panthers.
“Then Christian McCaffrey, he showed up on the screen,” Sreethan said, “And I was just in utter disbelief and shock. I mean, the best running back in the NFL had just said my name and yeah, I mean, it was so amazing!”
A thousand miles away, near Dallas, Vivinsha Veduru is counting down the days to the bee.
“It feels really exhilarating,” she said. “When I was in third grade and I placed third in the regionals, I got motivated and I started researching and I got this far.”
And far, she’s gone: at 10 years old, Vivinsha is the youngest of the 11 finalists in this year’s spelling bee.
“I know this is my first turn, and whatever I do is a bonus,” she said.
In addition to her hobby of creating her own comic books, there’s been a lot of spelling practice involved.
“My mom helps me by coaching and my dad and my sister also quizzes me, too,” Vivinsha said.
Now, both students, and the nine others who will join them, will put all they’ve learned to the ultimate test, in the hopes of earning that champion trophy.
There are a few changes to this year’s spelling bee.
In 2019, it ended with a record eight winners as champions. To prevent a repeat of that, organizers created some new rules. They’ve added vocabulary questions to the competition and a tie-breaker spell-off.