In a competition that had all the thrills of an NCAA basketball tournament game and more twists than a rodeo pretzel, two Houston-area students emerged as co-champions in the 2014 Houston Public Media Spelling Bee for the second year in a row.
Shobha Dasari, a seventh grader at Pearland Junior High School, and Syamantak Payra, an eighth grader at Westbrook Intermediate School in Clear Creek ISD, tied for the top honor in a marathon competition that attracted 55 elite spellers ranging in age from 8 to 14 from 100,000 students representing more than 1,000 Texas schools.
The competition, which lasted nearly five hours, was televised live on Channel 8 from the Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting on the University of Houston campus.
The two winners will represent the Southeast Texas region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee from May 27-29 in Washington, D.C. They will face 277 contestant spellers from across the country, aiming for victory and prizes worth more than $30,000 in the 87th edition of the competition.
Both students represented the region in last year's national competition: Payra tied for seventh in the finals while Dasari placed 19th.
The final round of Saturday's competition ended in a dramatic fashion as both students had a chance to win the championship outright. After Dasari, 13, missed the word "dhauri" (an East Indian tree), Payra, 12, correctly spelled the word "maglev" (the use of the magnetic fields generated by superconducting magnets to cause an object to float above a solid surface).
But according to the rules, Payra had to correctly spell another word — the last one of the competition — "poonac" (a cocoanut cake). He missed it by only one letter, spelling it "poonak," and judges then declared both students winners.