World & Nation

How could there be a tie in the National Spelling Bee?

Spelling Bee co-champions
National Spelling Bee officials declared Ansun Sujoe, left, and Sriram Hathwar as co-winners after the pair exhausted a list of championship words.
(Mark Bowen / Scripps National Spelling Bee)

Two teenage boys have been named winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a championship tie for the first time in 52 years. But how could this happen? Aren’t there enough tough words to go around?

Sriram Hathwar, a 14-year old eighth grader from Painted Post, N.Y., and Ansun Sujoe, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Fort Worth, will each be awarded $30,000. 

Their rare tie is rooted in the bee’s rules that specify that a list of 25 championship words are used after the competition is whittled down to two or three contestants. To win, a speller has to get the first word right. If the competitor gets the second word wrong, the first speller then needs to spell a third word correctly to win. 

As the competition moved forward Thursday night, 23 words were exhausted in the final 10 go-rounds. With three words needed to declare a winner and just two left, organizers had to declare a tie.


Bee organizers didn’t respond to requests to comment on whether changing rules to not allow ties has ever been considered.

The last tie was in 1962 when Nettie Crawford of Roswell, N.M., and Michael Day of Hardin, Ill., bested 70 others and used up 59 words in the championship rounds.

Crawford, the daughter of New Mexico farmers and Day, the son of an Illinois government worker, each won $1,000--about $7,800 in today’s dollars.

Both received celebratory parades and more gifts when they returned to their hometowns, local newspapers reported at the time. Crawford rode in a convertible through Roswell. One administrator remarked about Day, that he had “hit a bigger home run than Stan Musial ever hit.”


Similar celebrations are in store for Hathwar and Sujoe, who beat out 279 others.

The co-winners appeared to immediately enter gemeinschaft, a community of strong kinship -- and a word Sujoe spelled correctly Thursday night. In other words, they were close comrades, or corpsbruders -- a word Hathwar correctly spelled.

“The competition was against the dictionary, not against each other,” Hathwar said during a televised interview after the draw. “I’m happy to share this trophy with him.”

Both Sujoe and Hathwar are Indian-American, making it seven years in a row that an Indian-American has won the bee. The U.S. has nearly 3 million Indian-Americans, less than 1% of the population.

Crawford, a 13-year-old eighth grader when she won, now lives in Texas and didn’t respond to requests to comment. Day, a 14-year-old eighth grader back in 1962, couldn’t be located.

Co-champions have been declared in four of the 87 spelling bees.

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