Excerpt: Samir Patel
Fort Worth, Texas
Life isn’t pretty here at the Fort Worth regional spelling bee. That is, not if you’ve won the last two years, and you’re now competing for your third trip to Washington, as Samir Patel is. If that’s the case, few of your fellow spellers think warm thoughts about you.
Between rounds, some of the kids make remarks. Samir, eleven, has developed a new, methodical spelling style. He asks the pronouncer for a word’s clues—definition, language of origin—even if he clearly knows the word’s spelling; he wants to ensure he’s focused before his first letter. His deliberate approach irritates some of his competitors, who, in truth, are resentful that he shows up every year to claim the trophy. They chime in: “Stop, you’re annoying us—if you know the word just spell it.” He shoots back, “No, I want to be methodical, I do not want to make a mistake. It’s my choice.”
One of his older competitors goes a step further. By Samir’s account, the boy tells him, “I hope someone’s going to take you down this year.” Samir, slender and standing less than 4 and a half feet tall, retorts that no one’s going to take him down, and sets out to try and prove it.
Which will be no small feat. Every one of these forty-six kids has won their area bee, so this group represents the best spellers from more than 600 schools in Forth Worth and its surrounding counties. This city’s bee is one of the country’s toughest. To take the trophy on this stage, you’ve got to be ready to compete.
As I ride over to the Fort Worth regional bee this early March morning with Samir and his parents, Sudhir and Jyoti—they pick me up at my hotel—the Patels’ sense of anxiety is palpable.