NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – When ESPN broadcaster Paul Loeffler announced eighth grader Manu Nair’s name, as one of the 49 semifinalists at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the young speller was surprised.
“It’s exhilarating I never thought that I’d make it this far,” Manu said. “I mean, I was hoping to, but really happy that I did.”
Manu, 14, from Gray Middle School in Union, Ky., took the stage Wednesday morning and masterfully spelled the words pronouncer Jacques Bailly gave him: “eclectic” and “hanuman,” an Indian monkey god.
He was nervous, but confident throughout the preliminary contest.
“I was so nervous the entire time,” he said. “Not because of the words – I was just nervous if whether or not I’d get into the finals.”
Manu’s mother, Lekha Nair, was also nervous as she watched her son compete.
“I was wondering how I will handle him if he loses because he worked very hard the entire year,” she said.
After Round 3, Manu called to the front of the stage and as one of 49 semifinalists who will compete Thursday morning for the chance to spell in the final round Thursday night.
All finalists received a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which made Manu happy.
“So, we had heard last year that they had given out Surfaces to everybody, but I didn’t come here last year, because I lost in regionals,” said Manu, whose name can be found in the dictionary with the meaning of first man. “So, we never got one, but this is like, ‘Oh yeah, we got one!’”
Manu, who knows that the contest is going to get more challenging, is ready to spell the words Bailly launches at him Thursday.
“As the competition progresses, I think the words are only going to get more difficult,” Manu said.
All 283 spellers appeared on stage Wednesday morning for Round 2, the first oral round. Only four spellers missed their words, and were out of the bee. By the end of Round 3 in the afternoon, 214 spellers remained. In both rounds, all the words came from a list of 1,000 study words.
At the close of Round 3, bee officials combined the scores earned by spellers in Tuesday’s written test and points earned spelling on stage to choose 49 semifinalists. After taking a second written test Wednesday evening, they will compete Thursday beginning at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN2.
The finals will air Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN. The winner takes home $35,000 in cash, a trophy and other prizes. All of the spellers were given Microsoft Surface 3 tablet computers to close Wednesday’s program.
Reach reporter Flavio Del Pino at [email protected] or 202-408-1489. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits to SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.