2021 | Schools

Hoover Middle School student advances to national bee semifinals

Competition continues June 27

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Ananya Gautam, an eighth-grade student at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Potomac advanced on Tuesday to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Screenshot via livestream

A Potomac middle school student on Tuesday mapped her way to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, spelling two words correctly and providing the correct definition for another — cartography.

Calm and collected, 14-year-old Ananya Gautam seemed unphased on the virtual stage, correctly spelling “euphuism” (a noun meaning the artificial and excessive elegance of language) and “talus” (rock debris at the base of a cliff or slope, chiefly as the result of gravitational pull or slide).

In a new component to the bee, spellers were also asked during one round a multiple choice question about a provided word. The spellers were asked to choose the answer that contained the definition of the word. Ananya’s question was about “cartography,” the practice of drawing maps.

Ananya, an eighth-grader at Herbert Hoover Middle School, will join 29 other spellers in the semifinals on June 27. The group will be whittled to the top 10 to 12 spellers, who will move on to the finals on July 8.

This year’s bee started with 209 spellers, ages 9 to 15. Of those, 74 advanced to Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

This is Ananya’s second appearance in the national competition. In 2019, she tied for 51st place. The bee was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview on Monday night, before the quarterfinals, Ananya said her main goal this year was to make it past Tuesday’s competition.

This year, the competition is being held virtually, except for the finals, which will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The finals are usually held in or near Washington, D.C., but were moved this year “based on the NBA’s successful bubble during the pandemic,” according to competition officials. The NBA held the end of its 2019-20 regular season and playoffs at the same ESPN complex at Walt Disney World, to keep the teams, league officials and journalists together, but isolated from others.

The champion will receive $50,000.

Ananya’s spelling bee appearance this year was sponsored by The Meakem Group in Bethesda.

The only other speller from Maryland in Tuesday’s competition was Charan Bala, from Howard County. Charan was eliminated during the multiple-choice round.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com