Former spelling champion from Topeka says competition instilled her with confidence

May 31, 2019 - 6:52 am

An unprecedented eight spelling champions won the Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night.

Kansas and Missouri have had a total of nine champions over the years, including Peg McCarthy, who grew up in Topeka. She was the winner in 1978, at the age of 13.

McCarthy grew up in a family of spellers, and she was blessed with competitiveness. She entered the contest twice before became champion.

"It was in my seventh grade year that I finally won my county spelling bee, and then went onto the state spelling bee and won that, and then went onto the national after that," McCarthy said.

For the first time in the 92-year history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the dictionary has lost to the kids as the competition named 8 co-champions.

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McCarthy made it to the final pair of contestants in Washington D.C. Her opponent missed. She missed, too. Then her opponent missed again, on a word McCarthy had practiced before. The word was deification, which describes the act of making a god of someone or something.

"Back then, if it was down to two people, and someone missed, you had to correct them," McCarthy said. "That was where it took a lot of concentration, to not get rattled by having missed."

McCarthy later attended Yale University and became a clinical psychologist now. She says the best spellers have to be self-motivated. 

"My mom never needed to tell me to study," McCarthy said. "It was something I wanted to do, and I felt that way about my children, too."

This year's Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champions range in age from 12 to 14. They are; Rishik Gandhasri, San Francisco, Calif.; Erin Howard, Birmingham, Ala.; Saketh Sundar, Columbia, Md.; Shruthika Padhy, Cherry Hill, N.J.; Sohum Sukhatankar, Abhijay Kodali, Rohan Raja, Dallas, Tex.; and Christopher Serrao, Allentown, Penn.

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