Middle school student wins online spelling bee after national competition is canceled

Navneeth Murali won an online spelling bee after a national competition was cancelled. (Photo: Courtesy of Navneeth Murali)

A middle school student won an online spelling competition after the Scripps National Spelling Bee was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday night, Navneeth Murali, 14, of Edison, N.J., was crowned the winner of the SpellPundit Online National Spelling Bee, a new event created after Scripps was canceled amid the pandemic. Murali, who has been participating in spelling bees since the third grade, tells Yahoo Life that he was devastated by the news.

“It was a heartbreaking moment for all the [spellers], especially eighth graders like me because we won’t have another chance to compete onstage again,” he says. “[We] have spent thousands of hours preparing for this competition and made so many sacrifices along the way.”

Although this was not Murali’s first virtual spelling bee — or his first time winning a national title — he says competing online did not lesson the experience. “Virtual spelling bees are a different experience, but they offer spellers the opportunity to compete against the nation’s best, while at home,” he says.

SpellPundit was created in 2018 by siblings Shobha, 19, and Shourav Dasari, 16, to help aspiring competitors prepare for school and national competitions, especially without a coach, the pair tells Yahoo Life.

According to the co-founders, there were no initial requirements except for completing one of four written tests, to determine selection for the semifinals and the finals. Of the 280 students that registered, 16 made it to the final round to compete for the $2,500 cash prize. On Thursday night, thousands tuned into the livestream of the event on SpellPundit’s Facebook page.

“I couldn’t have done this without God’s grace and without my mother’s help — she stuck by my side for the last three or four years and helped me harness my spelling potential,” says Murali.

According to Shobha and Shourav, Murali is one of the best spellers in the country. In a statement sent to Yahoo Life, Paige Kimble, the executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, says that she is proud of all the competitors.

“We’re certain they would have shined on our stage this evening and aren’t the least bit surprised that they rose to the top in this competition,” she said. “We know they will excel in any academic endeavor they engage in. Naturally, our hearts go out to all our spellers who had hoped to join us in National Harbor, Maryland, this week. Their dream was to demonstrate their extraordinary knowledge before a national audience of avid spelling bee fans. That wasn’t possible this year due to the unprecedented public health crisis we’re all enduring. Under the circumstances, we’re happy that spellers have been able to find outlets to put to practice all the hard study they’ve done to prepare.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want daily lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.