South Forsyth Middle School student competes in Scripps National Spelling Bee

NImal Murugan, a seventh grade South Forsyth Middle School student, placed 49th in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Photo courtesy of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Facebook page.

By Lucas Hill, contributor

Tucker, GA —  A 12-year-old South Forsyth Middle School student, Nimal Murugan, was one of two Georgia competitors to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland, which took place from May 31 to June 2.

Murugan was one of 234 spellers to compete this year. He was sponsored by the Georgia Association of Educators, a nonprofit organization in Tucker that provides representation within the state legislature and state agencies on educational issues, support for the rights of educators and extensive benefits packages for its members, according to the organization’s website.

Contestants ranged in age from seven to 15 years old, and all 50 states as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Canada, Germany and Ghana were represented. Contestants could not be older than 15 years of age, and had to be in the eighth grade or below to qualify.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been the first Scripps Bee to be held completely in person since 2019. Last year’s winner was Zaila Avant-garde, the first Black American to win the Bee.

Murugan, a rising eighth grader who has been competing in spelling bees since the first grade, began seriously practicing for spelling bees in the fifth grade with the help of the North South Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at providing disadvantaged children living in India with college scholarships.

Murugan said he likes the competitiveness of spelling bees.

“If you did well, everyone appreciated you…and that’s the thing that I really liked – to show your skill in a competition setting. I like that competitiveness,” he said.

Placing in the Scripps Bee is the farthest Murugan has gone in a spelling bee competition so far. Murugan made it to the quarter-finals and placed 49th overall.

“I can see the words well in my mind [when prompted],” he said. “Sometimes, if it’s like a really hard word, then spelling it out [in the palm of your hand] helps. I just try to keep calm and recollect myself, and even if I don’t know the word, I give it my best shot.”

The semi-finals and finals of the Scripps Bee were televised live on ION and Bounce Television, and hosted by actor, director, educator, and children’s literacy advocate LeVar Burton. Participants were asked vocabulary questions and lightning-round questions, as well as standard spelling questions.

“I knew almost all the words in the semi-finals,” Murugan said. “So I was a little disappointed. A lot of people got out in the quarter-finals, and they’re on their last year — at least, me, I have one more year.”

Murugan said he felt nervous but also excited to compete in the National Bee.

“I just wanted to take in the experience,” he said.

“I know there was a bit of nervousness for him to be in front of a huge crowd,” Morgan Nagarajan, Murugan’s father, added. “But I am very optimistic for his up-coming potential for the next year…I am very proud of him.”

Next year, Murugan plans to qualify for the Scripps Bee again, and hopes to win for his final year of eligibility.

The 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee’s 14-year-old champion, Harini Logan, a Texas-native, received a $50,000 cash prize for placing first. The next Bee will take place a year from now, with the location and host to be determined.

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