The Scripps National Spelling Bee preliminaries get rolling this afternoon, making me wish my little cubicle TV got ESPN3. In honor of the event, Slate's got a great explainer, "Why Are Indian Kids So Good At Spelling?" Good question! If you've seen Spellbound, you've got an inkling, but there's much more — the North South Foundation (NSF).
The NSF circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans — there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking — and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India.
Indian-American kids cut their teeth on the NSF circuit, then wow at the national level. Consider the facts, then consider this:
The North South Foundation could dominate Scripps even further, if more of its spellers were eligible to compete. In areas with more gifted NSFers than competition zones, the battle to get into Scripps can be intense ... Scripps operates more like a crazy single-elimination tournament. The winner in each local bracket funnels into a pool of finalists, who repeat the same process to pick a winner. That can lead to some powerhouse regional showdowns. In San Jose, Calif., for instance, eventual 2009 NSF senior co-champion Ramya Auroprem had to beat out 2009 NSF runner-up Sidarth Jayadev just to make it into last year's National Spelling Bee finals.
Go kids, go! And look out for precocious 8-year-old Vanya Shivashankar, national champ Kavya's little sister. She's a tiger!