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Manu Nair and Joseph Delamerced are no rookies in the "Big Bee" experience. For both boys competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the Bee is a family affair.
"My entire family has really supported me and pushed me throughout my spelling career," said 13-year-old Delamerced, Region 2 winner from Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati. "Sometimes, they'll just quiz me with random words to spell."
At this year's Bee, Nair will be returning for his second consecutive year, and Delamerced will also be returning for the second shot at the championship since 2011.
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"My two siblings tease me saying, ‘You better win!' I'm hoping to make it farther than they did," Delamerced said.
Nair, the Region I winner from Gray Middle School in Union, Ky., said his mom is his No. 1 fan… and his most ambitious trainer.
"My mom starting watching the Bee before I was even born and she knew I had the potential to do it," 12-year-old Nair said. "Spelling is my thing. She is always practicing with me. She knows I'm pretty competitive."
The two winners of the WCPO Regional Spelling Bee will join 279 other top spellers from across the country in the nation's capital this week to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee beginning Tuesday.
"[Delamerced] now has confidence in himself and has peace every time he goes up there," Delamerced's mom, Victoria, said. "And that's something that we as parents could not have given him alone. His school, his siblings and his faith have been so instrumental for him."
Two of Delamerced's older siblings also went to Washington, D.C., during their Spelling Bee days. Eighteen-year-old Anna, who now attends Brown University, placed 25th in 2008 and brother Toni, 17, placed 12th in 2009.
"It all started when Anna won in 8th grade," Victoria said. "We didn't want him to feel pressured by his older siblings. When we went to D.C. for Tino, [Delamerced] just wanted to play his Game Boy, so we didn't think he was interested."
"Then, we [Delamerced] lost the first time he was able to participate, he cried because he was so upset and frustrated," she said. "It was weird for us because we thought he wasn't interested. But it was good that he lost because that's when he knew he was interested. He wanted to win."
Nair devotes plenty of time to spelling but says there are other things in his life.
"During weekdays, I practice three-four hours a day and during the weekends, I practice seven-eight hours a day," Nair said. "I'm just a normal kid. I like to play basketball and hang out with friends. I do like spelling, but at times, it gets really boring and tedious."
Even so, he always sticks with it.
"As parents, we tell him he has to work," Nair's mom, Lekha, said. "He gets really frustrated but at the same time, he's a little competitive. He'll say that he wants to stop, but then he'll come right back and say, ‘No I don't, Mom.' He will beg me not to quit. And we start practicing again."
All of the practice has Nair focused on one thing.
"After all of this practice, I am confident that I can make it to the finals this year," Nair said. "I've learned in the past two years that hard work will get you lots of places. I'm just going to go over the dictionary a million times before I go up there."
This year, the boys have had to prepare for the new rule in the competition that requires not only keen spelling ability but also vocabulary.
"Before the vocabulary was introduced, I still read the definitions of the words, but I've become more conscious of the definitions," Nair said. "I definitely think it will add more competition to the bee. It's definitely going to be harder, but it will definitely help me in the long run."
Delamerced agrees that vocabulary will help him in the future.
"I think it will help when I have to take the ACTs and the SATs," Delamerced said. "Most importantly, the vocab has enhanced my work ethic even more."
Both boys are getting plenty of practice in at home and at school. Gray Middle School doesn't actually have a school bee, so Manu was nominated as the school's representative. As a straight A student, Manu has big plans ahead.
"He loves basketball. He loves singing. He is in the school choir. He plays guitar and he is a second-degree brown belt in karate," Lekha said. "He loves all of those things, and spelling has taught him what hard work is all about. Now, he wants to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up. Things can change but he is pretty set on that."
Delamerced's school is pretty heavily involved in his success. Not only does the school curriculum involve multiple years of study in French, Spanish and Latin, but also the middle school has also incorporated "Spelling Wednesdays" as a "personal training" tool.
Schoolmates created a "sprit tunnel" full of all of students last Wednesday, his last day before his trip to Washington. Wearing a "Joseph, The Amazing Speller" shirt, Patti Kenney discussed her time with Delamerced.
departments in the school all have their week to pick three words that we think will stump him, and they never have," said Kenney, the literary coach at Summit. "[Delamerced] just has this amazing way of learning. He understands the words. He understands prefixes, suffixes, and the root. And he's just a pleasure to work with."
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