Pictured (from left) are Jayakumar Manoharan, Harini Jayakumar, Rishidharan “Rishi” Jayakumar and Pavitha Jayakumar. Harini and Rishi both qualified for the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

BY KARISSA MILLER

Iredell County siblings will compete against the best spellers in the country — and each other — at the 2022 National Scripps Spelling Bee in June.

Rishidharan “Rishi” Jayakumar, a seventh-grader at The Brawley School, and his sister, Harini Jayakumar, a fourth-grader at Langtree Charter Academy, qualified for the national championship after  placing first and second, respectively, at the regional competition.

Despite the sibling rivalry, Rishi and Harini are supportive of one another and excited to be representing their family and community.

“I was happy and still kind of in shock,” Rishi said of his triumph in the regional competition on March 13.

Dad Jayakumar Manoharan said he is proud of Rishi and Harini. He hopes other children will be inspired by their performance at nationals.

“We were very happy. We didn’t ever talk about them both being in the top position until it became reality. When it did happen, it was a dream come true,” explained Jayakumar. “We’re happy to see them both compete in nationals.”

“It’s not easy, but we’re happy,” added mom Pavitha Jayakumar.

Regional Spelling Bee

The Brawley School Principal Mark Shinkaruk attended the regional bee.

“They were competing against students from all over North Carolina and South Carolina,” he said. “There were all these kids in a room. The group kept getting smaller and smaller until they were head-to-head.”

“The judges didn’t connect the fact that they were brother and sister right away. It’s unique in the fact that they both go to different school districts so they were able to compete there,” he added.

Once the competition was narrowed down to the brother and sister, the battle between siblings lasted four rounds. Harini took second place after misspelling “femalistic.” Rishi secured first-place when he correctly spelled “swidden.”

At the regional competition, they both won their own Carolina Panthers jersey, a football, a medal and a one year subscription to the dictionary.

Additionally, the top-four finishers received an all-inclusive trip to National Bee Week in Washington, D.C., which includes flight, food, and hotel accommodations at Gala National Resort for up to four guests.

Road to the National Bee

Pavitha said that Harini wasn’t able to compete until this year because her school didn’t have a spelling bee until this school year.

Harini, 9, won after nine rounds at her school spelling bee and 24 rounds at the district spelling bee.

At the district level, she had to compete against other charter elementary and middle schools from across North Carolina.

Rishi, who is now the two-time spelling bee champion for Iredell-Statesville Schools, was victorious after 16 rounds this year. The winning word was “aggrandizement.”

When in elementary school, he won his first spelling bee; however, he couldn’t compete in the regional competition because he moved to North Carolina.

Now, he has a chance of a lifetime and is thrilled for the opportunity.

“One of my friends competed at national last year. He placed seventh. My goal is to beat him,” Rishi said.

Preparing for Nationals

Rishi and Harini are both thankful for their mom and the time she has devoted to helping them practice.

“Our mom helps us a lot. She tries to find words on social media — difficult words,” Rishi said.

The siblings also have a professional coach, who is a professor at Cambridge University. They practice around four hours a day.

“My coach taught me a lot of stems, and there are rules for each language of a word. I try and memorize those rules and the exceptions to those rules,” Rishi said. 

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