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Marathon Bee

It was a regional spelling bee for the record books.

Six hours, 63 rounds of spelling, and it all came down to a 25-word written test.

As the judge announced the results, Maitri Kovuru, an eighth-grader at Fort Worth ISD’s McLean Middle School, said she prepared herself for being named runner-up.

What happened next shocked her.maitri1

She defeated the reigning regional bee champion, Hephzibah Sujoe, a seventh-grader at Bethesda Christian School, earning her a trophy, $200 and advancement to the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee this May near Washington, D.C.

“It was like a flood of emotions,” Maitri said shortly after the 2019 Scripps Regional Spelling Bee hosted at Texas Christian University. “I was scared because I didn’t know who was going win.

“It’s like all the hard work has paid off, and you feel really accomplished.”

Exhausted and hungry, Maitri edged out her opponent by one word, spelling 23 of the 25 words correctly on the written test.

In the audience, was her mother, Neena Kovuru, who Maitri has practiced with several weeks in preparation for the bee. Ms. Kovuru said that she could feel her hands shaking with apprehension up until the moment the winner was announced.    

“I think we both broke down … I was crying hysterically,” said Ms. Kovuru. “I cannot even express the feeling. I don’t even think there’s a word in the dictionary. It was amazing.”

The March 7 regional bee went on so long that judges ran out of words and had to consult Scripps National Spelling Bee representatives on how to proceed. Five hours after the bee’s start, the decision was made to administer a 25-word written exam as the tiebreaker.

“It’s a record,” said Norma Burks, lead regional bee judge, and FWISD’s academic activities coordinator. “[We’ve] never had a bee go 63 rounds.

“It was very exciting and surprising that these girls were so well versed. Words I’ve never seen. They were very talented.” 

In good company

maitri2 Maitri is the first FWISD student in recent history to advance to the national bee, and she’s in good company.

In 1973, Barrie Trinkle, another student from McLean, advanced to the national spelling bee and won, according to the FWISD’s Billy W. Sills Center for Archives.

McLean Principal Barbara Ozuna said that it’s been Maitri’s long-time goal to advance to the national spelling bee, and to see that goal accomplished is impressive.

“That’s incredible … truly incredible,” Ms. Ozuna said.


Hard work prevails

Maitri entered her first spelling bee as a third-grader. She defeated eight-graders to become her school’s spelling bee champion.  

She’s competed in spelling bees over the years, but this year her desire to compete and win intensified, her mother said. Maitri has studied constantly and spent long hours preparing with her mother for the bee.  It paid off at regionals.maitri3

As she looks back at the regional bee and the six hours it took her to clinch the championship, she said “it’s cool” to know she competed in an “unprecedented” contest.

“I’m just glad that I was able to be part of it … and that I was able to stay in it so long,” Maitri said. 

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is slated for May 27-30 in National Harbor, Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C. Preliminary and final rounds will air live on ESPN.


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