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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 22, 2018

Sibling rivalry spices up this year’s U.S. spelling bee

By Lacey Johnson | May 30, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two sets of identical twins are among the more than 500 contestants vying for the top prize in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, suggesting that spelling prowess, like athletic achievement, tends to run in families.

The 91st annual Bee, which began Tuesday and ends Thursday evening, includes 45 spellers with relatives who are former contestants in the national championship.

One of them, Atman Balakrishnan, a 12-year-old from Chicago, hopes to follow in the footsteps of his father, Balu Natarajan, the 1985 champion. Natarajan, now a sports medicine doctor, was 13 when he won.

For decades, Indian-American families like Balakrishan’s have groomed their children for success in the Bee, a commitment that was subject the 2002 documentary “Spellbound.” As a result, Indian-Americans have dominated the event for decades.

This year, the competition, which takes place in Oxon Hill, Maryland, outside of Washington, will include identical twins for the first time. In fact, there are two sets of them.

“Twins oftentimes get involved with the same interests. In this case, you end up with an automatic study partner,” said Scripps communications manager Valerie Miller. “They help each other to do the best they can. They push each other and encourage each other.”

Aaron and Andrew Marcev, 11 year olds from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, are mirror images of each other, judging from the portraits on spellingbee.com, which shows the boys dressed in matching blue shirts with neatly combed blonde hair.

In their photos, Pierce and Garrett Bryner, 13, of Price, Utah, also look exactly alike, both peering intently into the camera, their short blonde hair brushed back.

A record 516 spellers from the United States and eight foreign countries are vying for the crown, winnowed from 11 million hopefuls who competed in preliminary competitions at schools around the world.

Contestants, aged 8 to 15, are 46 percent female and 54 percent male, according to the contest’s website. They will have to spell words drawn from the 470,000 entries in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary.

The winner of the $40,000 top prize will emerge from finals on Thursday night, with a worldwide audience tuning in to the live broadcast on ESPN.

The E.W. Scripps Co, which owns television and radio stations, runs the Bee on a nonprofit basis.

 

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