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How's life after the Scripps Spelling Bee?

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Posted at 7:00 AM, May 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-26 10:17:11-04

With the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee underway this week in Washington, D.C., we catch up with local participants who made it to the national stage in the past and see what they’re up to today.

CINCINNATI — In 2011, when now 16-year-old Joseph Delamerced was a fifth-grader at the Summit Country Day School in Hyde Park, he could hardly believe it when he beat out an eighth-grader in the school’s spelling bee to advance to the regional competition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Little did he know, it was only the beginning.

Delamerced went on to advance to the national competition of the Bee not just that year, but also in 2013 and 2014 – when he was in the seventh and eighth grades – as well.

“It was surprising when I won at my school in the fifth grade,” he said. “I guess I was quite the avid reader, though. I loved books. Instead of video games, I’d ask for books for Christmas and my birthday.”

Joseph Delamerced, middle, with friends at the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Photo by Mark Brown)

Now a sophomore at Summit, Delamerced lists English and science as his favorite classes. He writes for both his school newspaper and magazine and will spend two-and-a-half weeks in Maui this summer taking a marine biology course.

The Hyde Park native also serves as second vice president of the Ohio Junior Classical League – a state organization that promotes the study of the Latin language and classical civilization – and won a national chess competition through the United States Chess Federation’s National K-9 Chess Championship in the novice division last spring. 

“I took a lot of my strategies for that chess competition from the Bee,” he said, “such as taking my time.”

Delamerced also can decipher a person’s heritage just by looking at his or her last name, thanks to the Bee.

“It’s a small, little thing, but also really cool and unique,” he said.

The (Future) NASA Bioengineer

Delamerced isn’t the only local student to advance to the national competition of the Bee more than once, though. Ryle High School freshman Manu Nair, 15, is another.

Nair participated in the national contest in 2012, when he was in the fifth grade; in 2013, when he was in the sixth grade; and in 2015, when he was in the eighth grade. In 2015, he finished in 11th place.

Manu Nair, today 15 years old and a freshman at Ryle High School, on stage at the national Bee in 2015, when he was in the eighth grade. He went on to finish in 11th place.

The Union resident is taking honors and advanced placement classes at Ryle, and is involved with the school’s National Honor Society, Quick Recall academic team and Future Business Leaders of America program. 

After his sophomore year, however, he hopes to transfer to the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Bowling Green, Kentucky – a residential program housed at Western Kentucky University for bright, highly motivated Kentucky high school students who have demonstrated interests in pursuing advanced careers in science, technology, engineering and math. 

Only 20 percent of applicants are accepted into Gatton each year. During the students’ junior and senior years of high school, they take courses at WKU and finish high school with more than 60 hours of college credit.

Because he won first place in the regional competition of the Kentucky Engineering Center-sponsored 2015 Kentucky MATHCOUNTS competition in the middle of his eighth-grade year last February, Nair also has a full scholarship to either WKU or the University of Kentucky. 

His goal is to eventually earn his doctorate in bioengineering and work for NASA.

The (Future) Mechanical Engineer

Abhilash Yarlaggada, a 14-year-old freshman at Sycamore High School in Blue Ash, met Nair during the 2015 national Bee competition. He and Nair – and their parents – are still friends.

“Being at the Bee was super cool because you got to talk to all of these different kids from all over the country, who are all as good as you are if not better,” Yarlaggada said.

Abhilash Yarlaggada, today a freshman at Sycamore High School, at the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Photo by Sunitha Yarlaggada)

Today, Yarlaggada’s favorite class is biology. 

“Recently, we did an independent project and my topic was prosthetics, so I built a model arm out of wood and PVC pipe,” he said. “I had a lot of fun doing that.”

In his high school years to come, Yarlaggada plans to take a few engineering electives to see what he thinks of them and is tentatively planning on going into mechanical engineering.

He also is on his school’s quiz team and, next year, wants to join the mock trial or Model United Nations clubs and try out for the soccer team.

The (Future) German Teacher

Madeline Stevens, a 21-year-old senior majoring in German at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, says participating in the national competition of the Spelling Bee helped fuel her love for language. 

“A lot of the ways I studied for the Bee went into the roots of words and language,” she said, “and then I took German in high school, so it seemed like a natural progression.”

Madeline Stevens, now 21, participated in the 2009 national Bee. Today, she’s a senior at Purdue University, majoring in German.

Stevens, from Batesville, competed in the 2009 Bee and remembers that spelling the word “mezzanine” correctly got her there. 

She plans to graduate in the spring of 2017 and hopes to go into either teaching or translation. For the past year and a half, she’s taught German classes to beginners on a voluntary basis at a community center in West Lafayette.