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Spelling Bee Winner: ‘I Need to Sleep’

Dev Shah, 14, from Largo, Fla., reacts as he wins the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Dev Shah, 14, from Largo, Fla., reacts as he wins the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Spelling Bee Winner ‘I Need to Sleep’
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Fourteen-year-old Dev Shah has dreamed of winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee since 2019. He finally won it Thursday after correctly spelling the word “psammophile.”

Dev asked for the word to be used in a sentence. He had described the request earlier as a way to gain more time to remember the spelling.

“Psammo meaning sand, Greek?” Dev asked. “Phile, meaning love, Greek?” The Merriam-Webster dictionary says the word “psammophile” means “an organism that prefers or thrives in sandy soils or areas.”

Then, Dev put his hands over his face as he was declared the winner.

Dev first competed at the national bee in 2019. Officials cancelled the 2020 competition because of the COVID-19 health emergency. And he did not make it to the national bee in 2021.

Last year, Dev spent five hours spelling outdoors in cold, windy, wet conditions at a regional competition in Orlando, Florida. Again, he failed to make it to the national competition. He was very sad.

“Despondent is the right word,” Dev said. “I just didn’t know if I wanted to keep continuing.”

Dev’s mother, Nilam Shah, said it took her four months to get him to try again. When Dev decided to try again, he added exercises to help sharpen his focus and lost nearly seven kilograms, she said.

“He appreciated that this is a journey…” said Dev’s coach, Scott Remer, a former speller. “I think the thing that distinguishes the very best spellers from the ones that end up not really leaving their mark is actually just grit.”

When it was all over, Dev held the trophy over his head as confetti fell. “I would say I was confident on the outside but inside I was nervous, especially for my winning word — well, like, before. Not during,” he said.

Dev is the 22nd champion in the past 24 years with South Asian ancestry. His father, Deval, said his son could spell words starting at age 3.

Dev received more than $50,000 as the winner. And Charlotte Walsh took home $25,000 as the runner-up.

“I’m so happy for him,” said Charlotte, a 14-year-old from Arlington, Virginia. “I’ve known Dev for many years, and I know how much work he’s put into this and I’m so, so glad he won.”

Now that he finally won it, Dev said, “I need to sleep. There have been a lot of sleepless nights these last six months.”

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr..

Hai Do adapted this story for VOA Learning English from an Associated Press report by Ben Nuckols.


Words in This Story

spell –v. to say the letters that make up a word

thrive –v. to grow and develop well

appreciate –v. to understand the value of something and to be grateful for it

grit –n. (informal) the ability to get through difficult times

trophy –n. an object given to the winner of a competition

confetti –n. small pieces of colored paper that are thrown in the air as part of a celebration of a special event