A Wake County middle school student tied for 12th place in Thursday’s prime-time televised battle to be named the nation’s top speller.
Rohan Sachdev, 14, an eighth-grade student at Carnage Middle School in Raleigh,was among 15 spellers who competed in the evening finals of the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee that aired on ESPN. Rohan was eliminated in Round 8 when he incorrectly spelled “panniculitis,” which means inflammation of abdominal fat.
Rohan drew a round of applause as he exited the stage, capping years of competition in local and national spelling bees. Previously, he finished in 39th place in 2015.
About 11 million students from the United States, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Department of Defense Schools in Europe participate in local spelling bees, but only the top 291 spellers advanced to this week’s national competition at a convention center outside Washington D.C.
Rohan advanced to the final group of 40 spellers after competing in the preliminary rounds Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday morning and afternoon, 25 of the 40 spellers were eliminated during four rounds aired on ESPN2.
Rohan successfully spelled words such as “commis,” which means deputy assistant clerk; “yacata,” which is a mound of earth in Mexico and “debiteuse,” which is a rectangular clay block.
Rohan went further than any of the 14 North Carolinians who made the national competition. Helena Thompson, 12, a seventh-grade student at Highland Middle School in Sanford and Akshra Paimagam, 14, an eighth-grade student at Randolph Middle School in Charlotte, were both eliminated earlier Thursday.
During the competition, Rohan mixed spelling with what he called his ‘true passion” of tennis. Rohan, who lives in Cary, is the No. 1 ranked tennis player in his age group in North Carolina and travels all around the country playing in tournaments.
Rohan wore a blue cotton polo and khaki shorts on stage Wednesday, paired with neon-pink tennis shoes and black, crew-length socks pulled up to mid-calf like his favorite professional tennis player, Roger Federer.
“I wanted to wear tennis clothes,” he reportedly said, but his mom vetoed that.
On Thursday night, Rohan switched to a dress shirt and tie.
Rohan headed into Thursday’s final rounds thinking he could win it all.
"It's possible. It just takes a lot of time management skills," Rohan said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Most kids can spell right when they come back from school. I play tennis for a long time and then I come back and do my spelling."
Rohan has been equally competitive with his spelling endeavors. He won his first spelling bee as a second-grader at Laurel Park Elementary School and qualified for the Wake County bee every year since he was 6.
His spelling resume includes third-place finishes at two other bees, the North South Foundation and the South Asian Spelling Bee, that serve as a proving ground for future national champions.
The Sachdev family tradition at the national competition could continue. Rohan’s younger brother Rahul, 12, made it to last year’s national competition after beating Rohan in the Wake County bee.
The Associated Press contributed.