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For spelling bee champ, anxious seconds before celebration began

June 1, 2012 | 11:10 am


It was a monotonous, meticulous, somewhat awkward end to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But a split second after the confetti finally fell, Snigdha Nandipati, of San Diego, had her brother in her arms.

The 14-year-old eighth-grader rattled off her standard list of questions before rhythmically reciting each letter in the word “guetapens.”

When she finished spelling the word, whose definition is “an ambush snare or trap,” there was a pause, then applause started with what sounded like a single clapper in the audience. As the cheers gained steam, Snigdha swayed from side to side, winced and pursed her lip.

Twelve seconds went by without an announcement but also without that dreaded bell.

“I knew the word. I had seen it before. I had studied it,” Snigdha told The Times on Friday. “I was kind of confused. I wasn’t sure if I needed to spell another.

“When I finished spelling my word, I was going to go back to my seat," she said. "And then I realized, ‘Hey, I won.’ ”

That’s when things finally sped up. The confetti came down, and when Snigdha turned and saw the colors raining onto the stage, the focused competitor finally cracked a grin.

Snigdha's family, including her grandparents who flew in from India, were in the audience. And in the next scene, a wide shot on the ESPN broadcast showed 10-year-old Sujan Nandipati springing on stage to hug his sister.

“ESPN told us we could go, and we were ready,” said Krishnarao Nandipati, the champion’s father.

With the win, Snigdha became the second national spelling bee champion from San Diego County in the last seven years. Anurag Kashyap of Meadowbrook Middle School in Poway won in 2005. Snigdha and her family live nearby in Rancho Peñasquitos; she attends Francis Parker, a private school with a rigorous admissions process, in La Jolla.

As a prize, Snigdha gets $37,500 in cash, saving bonds and scholarship money, which she plans to save for college, along with thousands of dollars in reference materials. She wants to go into medicine, perhaps as a neurosurgeon.

“I’ve always liked biology, and I’m really interested in how the brain works,” she said. “There’s so many things going on.”


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-- Matt Stevens