Washington: Indian -American kids have placed a stranglehold on the Scripps National Spelling Bee, winning it now for seven years in a row and all but four of the last 15 years. The streak has been much discussed and analyzed in recent years - except by the people who actually run the bee. For the first time, Paige Kimble, the bee’s longtime director, agreed to address the sensitive question of why Indian- Americans have come to dominate the contest. Indians were greeted with a barrage of racist comments on Facebook and Twitter.
“We certainly followed the coverage last year,” Kimble said, “and we are aware of Twitter posts that are not nice, that indicate that we have a long way to go as a country in embracing all of our immigrant population.”
Thirteen of the past 17 winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee have been of Asian Indian descent. Even she’s not sure how to explain the extraordinary performance of Indian American youngsters in the national bee compared with other groups. All bee wannabes devote thousands of hours studying tens of thousands of words. The difference for Indian -American kids, Kimble said, may be a commitment to pursue the spelling championship over many years.
“How hard a child works is a very individual factor,” said Kimble, who won the national bee in 1981. “But what might be happening with Indian -American contestants is that there might be perseverance for the National Spelling Bee goal over a longer period of time.”
Indeed, of the Indian -American champions over the past 15 years, only one, Pratyush Buddiga, won on a first trip to the national bee in 2002. The others won after multiple trips, including last year’s co-champ, Sriram, who made it to the national bee five times before winning, and Kavya Shivashankar in 2009 and Sameer Mishra in 2008, who both won on their fourth trips.
Kimble and other bee organizers were appalled by the reaction to last year’s contest, when Sriram, then 14, and his co-winner Ansun, then 13, were greeted with a barrage of racist comments on Facebook and Twitter.