Rohan Sachdev is coming home from the Scripps National Spelling Bee with some hardware, but not the kind he was looking for – the championship trophy.
Instead, the Cary home-schooler earned a medal, and $500, for being one of 49 students to advance to the semifinals of the spelling competition. He was eliminated Thursday after misspelling the word “nictitate,” which means to wink.
The 12-year-old had hoped to reach the finals of the competition, despite his status as a newcomer. He made it the furthest of any Triangle student, but was tripped up by a word he hadn’t seen before.
Rohan appeared nervous in his button-down black shirt, tie and khaki pants. His mother, Shubha, seen on TV, looked even more so as her son took the stage. She closed her eyes, trying to focus on the moment, while Rohan asked questions about his assigned word.
“I was pretty nervous and praying,” she said later. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Rohan asked for the word’s definition as well as for the alternate pronunciation, language of origin and how it could be used.
He wrote the word on his hand before spelling the word aloud. After spelling the word with a “y” instead of an “i,” he was greeted with a bell and ushered off the stage.
“He told me he was wavering between the ‘y’ and the ‘i,’” Shubha said.
Rohan, a talented youth tennis player who’s extremely competitive, was noticeably upset after being eliminated, his mother said. Shubha and Rohan’s father, Rajan, told him he should learn from the experience.
“It’s a tough competition out here,” Shubha said. “We’re glad he finished his preliminaries.”
They also were encouraged by his knowledge of many of the tougher words, she said, especially after so many hours of practice. The family continued watching the bee after Rohan was eliminated.
“He knew a lot of other words,” she said. “We just have to work harder than we have so far. Hopefully he’ll make it next year.”
The semifinal round is an elite group, and the words proved challenging. Rohan was one of three spellers in a row to misspell a word.
Akshra Paimagam, 12, of Charlotte was the only other North Carolina speller in the semifinals. She went before Rohan and spelled the verb “calefy” incorrectly.
Those who survived the two rounds of oral spelling had their scores combined with the results of a multiple choice spelling and vocabulary test taken Wednesday evening to determine whether they moved to Thursday night’s finals on ESPN.
The bee was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.
On Wednesday, the first day of competition with 285 spellers, Rohan correctly spelled two words – kasha and amphictyony – and scored high enough on a multiple choice spelling and vocabulary test to move to the next round.
Rohan won his first spelling bee as a second-grader at Laurel Park Elementary. He’s stayed on the spelling circuit – qualifying for the Wake County bee every year since he was 6 – because he loves to compete, especially with his 10-year-old brother, Rahul.
He also is the second-best tennis player in North Carolina in his age group.
Three other spellers in the Triangle didn’t advance to the semifinals. They are Andrew Bowen, 11, a fifth-grader at Angier Elementary; Bettie Lehem Closs, 11, a sixth-grader at Lucas Middle in Durham; and Abigail Pittman, 12, a seventh-grader at Southside Christian School.
Jessica Banov contributed to this story.