SEMIFINALISTS

Speller No. 7, Esther Park
Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas
Age 13, 7th grade
School: Joe T. Robinson Middle School
Hometown: Little Rock, Arkansas
Esther is a musician who plays violin and piano and hopes to play flute in the near future. Her favorite sports are swimming and volleyball. Her hobbies include art and listening to rock ’n’ roll music. She is anxious to explore the beaches of Virginia during her visit to our nation's capital. Esther's favorite subject in school is science, and she hopes to become a physician.
Speller No. 11, Brandon Whitehead
Imperial Valley Press, El Centro, California
Age 13, 7th grade
School: The Academy Of Higher Education
Hometown: El Centro, California
A great honor for Brandon was receiving the pinnacle rank in Cub Scouting: the Arrow of Light Award. His favorite pastimes are photography, traveling, and playing with his three dogs named Molecule, Chiquita, and Seagram. His other hobbies include inventing things, hiking, and exploring. Brandon hopes to pursue a career in orthography. He participated in the 2007 national finals.
Speller No. 12, Paige Vasseur
Daily News Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Rio Norte Junior High School
Hometown: Valencia, California

Paige participates in Operation US, a community-action program sponsored by the city of Santa Clarita which inspires kindness among children and teaches them about equality. She loves to cook Italian cuisine for her family. She also enjoys spending time with her friends, reading, and ice-skating. Her two Roborovski hamsters are named Fluffernutter and Miss Fluffykins. Paige wants to become a scientist.

Speller No. 16, Josephine Kao
The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento, California
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Visions in Education Charter School
Hometown: Roseville, California
Josephine is currently featured on the American Girl Web site as a grand-prize winner in the "Stop Bullying" national poster contest. A valued member of the Capital Valley Harp Circle, she has also played piano since the age of four. She skates on a synchronized figure skating team and competes nationally. In recognition of her many philanthropic efforts, Josephine will be making a speech this July at the "Nestlé Very Best in Youth" awards ceremony. She participated in the 2006, 2007 and 2008 national finals, tying for 13th place in 2008.
Speller No. 18, Alex Wells
The San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego, California
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Standley Middle School
Hometown: San Diego, California
Alex is extraordinarily versed in music. He plays bassoon, piano, and clarinet and composes symphony and chamber music. He has performed with various statewide and local honor marching bands, and he is drum major of his school's marching band. He loves to read, and his favorite sport is basketball. Alex aspires to be a composer and a symphony conductor.
Speller No. 19, Ramya Auroprem
San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, California
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Joaquin Miller Middle School
Hometown: San Jose, California

Ramya is fascinated by linguistics and is eager to learn new languages. She is fluent in Tamil and is currently studying French, and she delights in finding connections between languages. She informally teaches Tamil to the children in her neighborhood. Ramya loves reading novels by Louisa May Alcott "because of the way simple ideas and stories are beautified in her works." Ramya's other hobbies include listening to music and bicycling.

 

Speller No. 36, Claudine Broussard
Cape Breton Post, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
Age 13, 7th grade
School: Home School
Hometown: Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia
Claudine is a voracious reader, and the Bible is her most treasured book. She plays traditional fiddle and is interested in classical music. Claudine's favorite sport is swimming. A good day for Claudine is spent outdoors hiking with her parents and siblings, followed by a meal featuring pineapple pizza. Claudine aspires to be a physician.
Speller No. 37, Laura Newcombe
National Post, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Age 10, 6th grade
School: Forest Hill Public School
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Laura is an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys swimming, fishing, canoeing, skiing, and skating. She takes lessons in ballet and synchronized swimming and appears in her school's annual musical. In her spare time Laura can be found reading manga on her computer. She enjoys pop music and would like to become a singer. Laura's sister, Leslie, participated in the 2006 national finals.

Speller No. 40, Veronica Penny
CHCH News, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Age 11, 5th grade
School: Home School
Hometown: Hamilton, Ontario
Veronica and her siblings operate a Web site featuring games and reviews of sporting events and concerts. She enjoys sports (especially swimming), playing music, and gardening. She likes to spend time in the kitchen, where her favorite meal is pork baby back ribs. For luck in spelling competitions, Veronica sleeps with a dictionary under her pillow and spells with a penny in her shoe. She represented CHCH News in the 2008 national finals, tying for 25th place.
Speller No. 56, Vincent Medina
The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Ramblewood Middle School
Hometown: Coral Springs, Florida
Vincent plays oboe in his school's honors band. He is also a member of his school's marching band, which performs at the annual Macy's Holiday Parade in Orlando. He holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys playing chess and basketball. At school Vincent is treasurer of its chapter of the National Junior Honor Society and is a member of the math and debate teams. Vincent hopes to pursue a career in medicine. Vincent participated in the 2008 national finals, tying for 25th place.
Speller No. 60, Miguel Gatmaytan
Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, Florida
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Osceola Middle School
Hometown: Ocala, Florida
Miguel has competed in numerous geography bees and science fairs. He and other members of his school's Mathcounts team recently competed in the state finals. In his free time Miguel enjoys playing golf and video games and creating comics featuring stick figures. Miguel is originally from the Philippines, and Filipino is his first language. He hopes to become a doctor or surgeon. Miguel participated in the 2007 national finals.
Speller No. 65, Serena Laine-Lobsinger
Palm Beach Spelling Bee Collaborative, West Palm Beach, Florida
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Parents Educating Children Home School Association
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida
Serena enjoys interior design, sewing, and learning to play guitar and piano. In her spare time she likes  photographing nature or cityscapes and going shopping. Serena has a passion for writing and literature, namely historical fiction and classics. Her favorite author is Jane Austen. Serena participated in the 2008 national finals.
Speller No. 70, Talmage Nakamoto
The Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu, Hawaii
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Konawaena Middle School
Hometown: Kealakekua, Hawaii

Talmage is active in Boy Scouts and has achieved Life rank. He enjoys judo and singing a cappella. Talmage is named after scientist and author James E. Talmage. Science happens to be his favorite subject, and he hopes to become a physicist one day. Talmage loves to quote movie lines—especially lines from his favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Talmage competed in the 2008 national finals.

Speller No. 88, Kyle Mou
Peoria Journal Star, Peoria, Illinois
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Dunlap Middle School
Hometown: Peoria, Illinois
Kyle enjoys his time spent as a member of his school's scholastic bowl team. Other favorite hobbies include reading, playing chess and computer games, and drawing. He is keen to meet President Obama because he is "interested in what it's like to be president during a crisis." He would like to pursue a career in scientific research and biology. Kyle participated in the 2007 and 2008 national finals, tying for 10th place in 2008.
Speller No. 89, Aishwarya Pastapur
The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Illinois
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Glenwood Middle School
Hometown: Springfield, Illinois
Aishwarya, a voracious reader and dedicated student, has participated in university talent searches and scholastic bowl competitions. As team captain, she was instrumental in leading her Mathcounts team to state-level competition by winning first place in county-level competition two years in a row. Her role model is Amelia Earhart because "she followed her passion and dreams no matter what anyone said." Aishwarya represented the Topeka Journal in the 2006 and 2007 national finals.
Speller No. 97, Vaibhav Vavilala
The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Creekside Middle School
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Vaibhav puts his energy into math, sports, and music. This year he advanced to the state Mathcounts competition for the second time and helped his team earn fourth place. He enjoys playing football, basketball, and tennis with his friends. He is studying violin at school as well as learning Indian classical music. Vaibhav participated in the 2005, 2007, and 2008 national finals, tying for 17th place in 2008. His brother, Vikas, participated in the 2006 national finals.
Speller No. 103, Kennyi Aouad
The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Indiana
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Otter Creek Middle School
Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana

Kennyi is a member of his school's Mathcounts team—a team that placed second in regional competition and also qualified for state competition. He plays clarinet in his school's band. Also, he loves to read: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is his favorite book. Kennyi participated in the 2007 and 2008 national finals and is well-known for conquering the giggles to correctly spell sardoodledom in the 2007 Bee.

Speller No. 108, Shari-Jo Miller
Jamaica Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica
Age 11, 7th grade
School: Bishop Gibson High School
Hometown: Mandeville PO, Manchester
Shari-Jo has diverse career interests. She is considering neurosurgery, or she may parlay her love of drawing into work as a fashion designer or artist. She likes to read: Men in Black by Steve Perry is her favorite book. Also, she is a fan of the Jonas Brothers and Beyoncé. Her other pastimes are surfing the Internet, socializing with friends, and watching television. Shari-Jo's best subject in school is Spanish.
Speller No. 110, Kavya Shivashankar
The Olathe News, Olathe, Kansas
Age 13, 8th grade
School: California Trail Junior High School
Hometown: Olathe, Kansas
Kavya enjoys practicing her violin, bicycling, swimming, and learning Indian classical dance. She names Nupur Lala, the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion, as her role model and the inspiration for her spelling career. She has plans for her future career as well: She looks forward to becoming a neurosurgeon. Kavya participated in the 2006, 2007, and 2008 national finals—tying for 10th, 8th, and 4th place, respectively.
Speller No. 139, Sidharth Chand
The Oakland Press, Pontiac, Michigan
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Detroit Country Day School
Hometown: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Sidharth enjoys competing. He participates in science fairs and plays competitive chess on his school's chess team. He is also on his school's soccer team. In his free time Sidharth likes to read or play tennis. An avid philatelist, he has collected multiple stamps and postage items from around the world. Sidharth enjoys all of his school courses, but he has the deepest appreciation for math and science. He would like to be a neurosurgeon. Sidharth placed second in the 2008 national finals.

Speller No. 151, Brent Henderson
The Examiner, Independence, Missouri
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Moreland Ridge Middle School
Hometown: Blue Springs, Missouri
Brent plays competitive soccer, swims for the Kansas City Blazers, and is a member of his school's cross-country and track teams. Brent is interested in music and plays trombone in his school's jazz and eighth grade bands. He collects football cards and is a dedicated fan of the Missouri Tigers and Kansas City Chiefs. Brent's favorite football player is Kurt Warner. Brent excels in math and would like to pursue an engineering career. Brent participated in the 2008 national finals.
Speller No. 158, Tussah Heera
Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas, Nevada
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Home School
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Tussah loves to immerse herself in music. She plays piano and cello and often composes her own scores. Tussah placed first in the 2008 Nevada Music Teachers National Association junior piano competition and has soloed with several local orchestras. Her other interests range from botany to Shakespeare. Tussah is fond of writing poems and prose. Her favorite sports are diving and swimming, and she admires the athletic achievements of Michael Phelps and Guo Jingjing.
Speller No. 159, Avvinash Radakrishnan
New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester, New Hampshire
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Academy of Science & Design
Hometown: Nashua, New Hampshire

Avvinash is passionate about sports. He plays basketball, football, and baseball and enjoys taking part in a good kickball game. He is a devoted fan of the Yankees and Celtics. Avvinash's best subject in school is history, and he would like to pursue a career in business. His sister, Anjithaa, participated in the 2007 national finals. This is Avvinash's third appearance in the national finals: He also competed in 2006 and 2008.

Speller No. 163, Michael Sun
The Record and Herald News, Hackensack, New Jersey
Age 14, 8th grade
School: West Brook Middle School
Hometown: Paramus, New Jersey
Michael is a numismatist and a philatelist. He is interested in travel and dreams of visiting the places represented in his coin and stamp collections. Michael participates in Destination ImagiNation challenges and a variety of local mathematics competitions. He is also a member of his school's jazz band. Michael's other interests include playing video games, riding his bike, and spending time with his friends. He hopes to pursue a career in science.
Speller No. 168, Kevin Drew
The Buffalo News, Buffalo, New York
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Northview Home School Association
Hometown: Wellsville, New York
Kevin is interested in photography, cinematography, and the culinary arts. He also plays electric guitar and collects coins. Kevin's love of animals inspired him to adopt a rescue border collie and three cats. Kevin met Nolan Ryan during a recent trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to meeting interesting people, Kevin enjoys skateboarding and swimming. His favorite school subject is math, and he wants to become a pharmacist.
Speller No. 169, Sriram Hathwar
The Leader, Corning, New York
Age 9, 3rd grade
School: Chemung Valley Montessori School
Hometown: Painted Post, New York
Sriram has studied piano for five years and enjoys learning to play new hymns and prayer songs. He likes to swim, ice-skate, ski, and play basketball. In his spare time Sriram may be found reading books in the Harry Potter series or watching Tiger Woods on the putting green. Sriram participated in the 2008 national finals, when he was the youngest contestant in the history of the event.
Speller No. 170, Neetu Chandak
Finger Lakes Times, Geneva, New York
Age 13, 7th grade
School: Seneca Falls Middle School
Hometown: Seneca Falls, New York
Neetu excels in math and music. She has participated in a regional math competition and played clarinet in an all-county band concert. Neetu's favorite pastimes include badminton, basketball, hiking, and swimming. She collects coins and rocks and also speaks Hindi. Neetu aspires to become an architect or interior designer. This is Neetu's third consecutive appearance in the national finals.
Speller No. 181, Zachary Zagorski
Long Island Jewish World, Rockville Centre, New York
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Oceanside Middle School
Hometown: Oceanside, New York

A Life Scout and assistant senior patrol leader in his Boy Scout troop, Zachary also serves as the secretary/treasurer of his local Order of the Arrow chapter.  He is an advocate and volunteer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and volunteers for the New York Blood Center as junior coordinator of the annual "Hike for Life" event. His summer pastime of choice is cheering for the New York Mets. Zachary tied for 17th place in the 2008 national finals.

Speller No. 183, Siraj Sindhu
Watertown Daily Times, Watertown, New York
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Case Middle School
Hometown: Watertown, New York

Siraj's interests include academics, sports, and video games. He won his school's overall achievement award for academics in seventh grade. He is active in his school's history club and is the treasurer of its student council. In addition to holding a red belt in Tae Kwon Do, Siraj plays basketball and runs track and field.  

Speller No. 200, Tino Delamerced
WCPO-TV Channel 9, Cincinnati, Ohio
Age 13, 7th grade
School: The Summit Country Day School
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
A nationally ranked chess player, Tino was just a second grader when he beat a grandmaster during a simultaneous chess exhibition. He recently took home first place in the Cincinnati Scholastic Chess Series—in the high school division. Musically inclined, Tino plays clarinet and is an accomplished pianist. He regularly volunteers his time playing piano for the residents of a nursing home. His sister, Anna, tied for 25th place in the 2008 national finals.
Speller No. 201, Anamika Veeramani
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio
Age 13, 7th grade
School: Incarnate Word Academy
Hometown: North Royalton, Ohio

Anamika takes private lessons in violin, Indian classical music, dance, and golf. She has won several regional and national awards in science, math, essay-writing, and vocabulary contests. Anamika aspires to attend Harvard Medical School, where she hopes to specialize in cardiovascular surgery. She would like to author books in her spare time.

 

Speller No. 204, Nicholas Rushlow
Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio
Age 11, 5th grade
School: Harmon Middle School
Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio

Nicholas is a competitive, year-round swimmer in a USA Swimming club. Last summer he won the Tri-County championship in the 25-meter backstroke for 9–10 year olds. Nicholas is in his fifth year of violin instruction with Suzuki Music Columbus. He has also studied jazz improvisation, and he loves to fiddle. Nicholas is an avid collector and builder of anything Lego, and his favorite vacation spot is Legoland. 

Speller No. 218, Connor Aberlé
Portland Tribune, Portland, Oregon
Age 13, 7th grade
School: Home School
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Connor has studied violin for five years, and his skill earned him a scholarship to the Aspen Music Festival School. He also enjoys composing music, skiing, traveling, and performing improvisational comedy. He holds a green belt in Tae Kwon Do. In his spare time Connor can be found working on authoring a series of five books or designing his own video games. He would like to turn one of these two hobbies into a career.

Speller No. 231, Sukanya Roy
Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Age 12, 6th grade
School: Abington Heights Middle School
Hometown: South Abington, Pennsylvania
Sukanya is musically inclined and has played piano for almost four years. She also enjoys rock-climbing and roller-skating. She takes classes in karate and holds an orange belt. In her spare time Sukanya may be found exploring the woods or reading and writing fiction stories. She hopes to someday become an author.
Speller No. 239, Keiko Bridwell
Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, South Carolina
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Florence Chapel Middle School
Hometown: Woodruff, South Carolina
A seasoned musician, Keiko has played piano for five years and plays flute in her school's honors band. She is also an active member of her church and has participated in a university talent search. Her other hobbies include working as her school's yearbook editor and collecting dolphin and bee items. She is named after Keiko Abe, a famous Japanese marimba player. Keiko participated in the 2006, 2007, and 2008 national finals, tying for 17th place in 2008.
Speller No. 249, Akshay Raghuram
Amarillo Globe-News, Amarillo, Texas
Age 10, 6th grade
School: Bonham Middle School
Hometown: Amarillo, Texas
Akshay plays violin and piano and is a member of his school's advanced orchestra. He enjoys math and science and has participated in state Mathcounts and Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering competitions. He is also a member of the Junior Amarillo Swim Team. Akshay's favorite sport is tennis, which he often practices on his Nintendo Wii. He would like to become a surgeon. Akshay's sister, Anjali, participated in the 2005 and 2008 national finals.
Speller No. 251, Mouctika Paluri
The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Creek Valley Middle School
Hometown: Carrollton, Texas
Mouctika plays violin and is a member of her school's concert orchestra. She enjoys performing Kuchipudi Indian dance, which she has been studying for two years. In her spare time she likes running, playing with her little brother, playing games, and listening to music on her iPod. Erin McCarley is her favorite artist. Mouctika participated in the 2007 and 2008 national finals, tying for 25th place in 2008.
Speller No. 255, Aditya Chemudupaty
HoustonPBS, Houston, Texas
Age 12, 7th grade
School: Nolan Ryan Junior High School
Hometown: Pearland, Texas
Aditya credits his "reading habit" for his spelling skills: His idea of a pleasant afternoon might include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a book like his favorite novel, Brisingr. A flutist in his school's wind ensemble, Aditya is also learning Indian classical music and studying violin. His life ambition is to either play flute professionally or become a marine biologist.
Speller No. 270, Andrew Traylor
The News-Virginian and The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (P.E.A.C.H.)
Hometown: Staunton, Virginia
Andrew's talent for the written word garnered him second place nationally in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Patriot's Pen essay contest in 2008. He aspires to be published as an author and a video game designer. Andrew volunteers his time in the television ministry at his church, directing and working sound and cameras. He is quite the advocate for coffee, ramen noodles, and burritos.
Speller No. 276, Tim Ruiter
Times Community Newspapers, Reston, Virginia
Age 12, 7th grade
School: NOVATAG–Fairfax
Hometown: Centreville, Virginia
A fan of science fiction and fantasy, Tim has devoted a lot of time to Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings. He's studied the character of Gollum enough to pull off a terrific impression. Tim's team won the Virginia Regional Middle School Science Bowl, securing an opportunity to compete in the National Science Bowl in May. Tim's science background will help him as a future matriculant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he hopes to study physics or chemistry.
Speller No. 283, Eleanor Runde
KOMO 4, KOMO 1000 Newsradio, STAR 101.5 & AM 570 KVI, Seattle, Washington
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Lakeside Middle School
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Eleanor plays lacrosse, soccer, basketball, and volleyball and has been the proud recipient of two "Paul Robeson Scholar-Athlete" awards. She counts her mother as her role model, declaring her mother "brilliant and talented." Eleanor puts her spare time toward directing her own movies and hopes to someday get paid to make films, perhaps even award-winning productions like her favorite picture, Titanic.

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