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Walpole student is state champ speller

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Last year, Eleanor Johnson Middle School seventh grader Sanya Nadeem won her school level spelling bee and was going to compete for the state title, but the event was cancelled due to COVID-19.

This year, she defended her school title and went on to score a perfect 50 out of 50 (40 purely spelling words and ten vocabulary words) to win the state championship, and will move on to spell against the best spellers the nation has to offer.

But while many elite spellers have been tutored on languages of origin and Latin prefixes since childhood, Sanya doesn’t have a tutor (and won’t be getting one). Why’s she such a good speller, then? According to her mother Rummana Alam, she just loves to read (her favorite author is Rick Riordan, who wrote the “Percy Jackson” series) and write (she wrote an article about missing sports for The Times Advocate and was quoted about the same issue in The Boston Globe), and gets exposed to a lot of unique words that way.

“She loves reading and her interests are reading, writing poetry and she’s been writing ever since she was very young and she loves to read. She does quite a bit of poetry and as a result of that, you get exposed to a lot of words. And I noticed she also has a very good memory as well, so she got into it and then at the school level a spelling bee was happening and I encouraged her to participate.”

Think you could compete with her? Not to be a grump, but I'd strongly and loudly urge you to reconsider. She won the school wide bee on “exhortation”, while she took home the state title via “curmudgeon.”   

Sanya won the statewide competition over the internet (her region would have competed at Lynn City Hall, but it was unavailable), rather than in person. Unfortunately, while in years past, just having won the state title would mean she’d be heading to Washington, DC to compete in “Bee Week” against the other state winners, because of COVID, the process has changed. As it stands now, more and more online rounds will take place, until only the final twelve spellers will head to Orlando, Florida for the final in-person round.

“That part was a little upsetting” Alam explained, “There's still time, since July 8, is the final competition in Orlando. This is a big thing. So many kids prepare for God knows how many years for a thing like this, so it’s a big thing to at least be able to be with all the kids who were the state winners. We're hopeful they might increase the number of kids, but I don’t think it will be all fifty, so that part is a little upsetting.”

While the invite to Washington, DC didn’t come with this year’s state title, apart from bragging rights, Nadeem did get French chocolates, a "Queen Bee" mug and some small candy, bee stickers, a one year subscription to Merriam Webster and Encyclopedia Britannica, a 100 dollar Amazon gift card and a Samuel Lewis Sugarman award (which is a coin set). Noted “bee-nefactors” Mary and Joel Abramson are also willing to provide her with airplane fare for Orlando, three-day hotel fare in Orlando and some spending money for while Sanya's in Orlando.

No matter what happens from here on out, as only a seventh grader, Sanya will be eligible to defend her state spelling bee title next year. But if she does manage to make it to the final twelve, goes to Orlando and competes on ESPN, she just might have all of Walpole buzzing.   

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