More than half of the 283 spellers in the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee said their best subject is either math or science, two S.T.E.M academic disciplines. This adds up to well-rounded students.
Sriram Hathwar (Speller 154), an eighth grader from Painted Post, New York and Ansun Sujoe (Speller 237), a seventh grader from Fort Worth, Texas are co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This is the first time there have been co-champions since 1962.
"We both know the competition is against the dictionary, not against each other," Sriram said. "I'm happy to share the trophy with him."
Ansun said as the competition wore on, he hoped that he would share the trophy.
"I like sharing the victory with someone else," he said. "It's been quite shocking and quite interesting, too. It's very rare."
Sriram's championship word was "stichomythia," which means dialogue especially of altercation or dispute delivered in alternating lines (as in classical Greek drama).
Ansun's was "feuilleton," a part of a European newspaper or magazine devoted to material designed to entertain the general reader, or a feature section.
Sriram is a five-time Bee competitor; he finished third last year and tied for sixth place in 2011. This is Ansun's second appearance at the Bee; he did not make the semifinals last year.
"I was pretty disappointed last year," Ansun said. "I did a furious comeback this year. I studied more, a lot."
Angel Sujoe, Ansun's mother, said the Bee championship had been his dream since second grade. She wasn't as confident as Ansun, she said, but he was convinced he would succeed.
"I wasn't that strong in my faith. My son had the real faith," she said. "I didn't expect this at all."
Throughout the competition, Angel said, she kept her eyes closed.
"I was just concentrating on prayer," she said. "Help him to get the words that he knows and help him to present it right."
Ansun's sister, Hephzibah, just finished second grade. Playing in the confetti onstage, she said she's planning to start spelling, and hopes her brother will coach her. Ansun said he would help as much as he could. Sriram has a younger brother, Jairan, a fifth grader who has finished behind him in local bees.
Both Ansun and Sriram each misspelled during the championship finals, but because they misspelled during the same round, neither was eliminated. Ansun misspelled "antigropelos" and Sriram misspelled "corpsbruder." Each knew the other's word, Sriram said.
Before the competition, Sriram called his grandmother, Bhageerathi Hathwar, and asked her to come from India to watch the Bee. She had last watched Sriram compete in 2008.
Bhageerathi said Sriram had taught her how to play Scrabble and helped her learn English.
"The trip was all worth it," she said. "Both of them were so good. ...God is great, I tell you."
Sriram said he was "really ecstatic" after the co-championship was announced.
"It was a really fun experience," he said. "I'm trying to take it all in right now."
Both Sriram and Ansun will receive a $30,000 cash prize, an engraved trophy and other gifts. The Bee has previously had co-champions in 1962, 1957 and 1950.
Once there are three spellers left in a round, the next round begins with a 25-word list. Ordinarily, a winner is declared if one speller misspells and the remaining speller correctly spells two words in a row. If no winner is declared before the list has been exhausted - or there are not enough words left for two consecutive spellings - co-champions are announced.