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Beginning in 1925 with only nine contestants, the Louisville
Courier-Journal newspaper sponsored the first

National Spelling
Bee,
a competition that every year brings together the nation’s finest youth spellers.

Americans — especially adults — have often marveled at the abilities of young spellers adeptly managing such grammatical complexities as “gladiolus,” Frank Neuhauser’s winning word in the first contest in 1925, or “smaragdine,” John Capehart’s winning word in 1961.

But they are marveling at this year’s champion spellers for a different reason. The top three spellers in this year’s competition were all home-schooled.

“This is outstanding confirmation of the academic excellence of home schooling,” said Michael Farris, president of the

Home School Legal
Defense Association.
“I can’t wait until home schoolers are winning Oscars and the presidency.”


George Abraham Thampy of Maryland Heights, Mo., accepts his trophy as this year’s winner of the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee.

Indeed, it may not be long. Although home schoolers comprise just two percent of the school-age population, said Farris, at the outset of this year’s contest 27 out of 248 contestants were home-schooled children — or eleven percent. That figure is up from just under ten percent in 1999.

The first home schooler ever to win the

Scripps-Howard News
Service’s
National Spelling Bee (Scripps acquired the rights to the contest in 1941) was Rebecca Sealfon from Brooklyn, New York, in 1997. Since then, an increasing number of home schoolers have been entering annual spelling contests — and winning.

In 1999, David Beihl, a 13-year-old from South Carolina, won the annual National Geography Spelling Bee.

And this year’s Scripps-Howard winner, George Abraham Thampy, a 12-year-old home-schooled student from Maryland Heights, Mo., placed second last week in the National Geography contest, followed by Jonathan Janus of South Carolina in third.

It gets better, Farris said. Behind Thampy’s first-place finish were more home schoolers: Sean Conley, 12, in second place, and Alison Miller, 14, in third.

In all, only 178 contestants this year were from public schools. Besides the 27 home schoolers, 24 came from private schools and 19 from parochial schools.

“My mom and dad taught me everything,” George said after winning Thursday’s 15th and final round.

His parents, natives of southern India, said teaching their children at home helped them learn as well.

His father, K. George Thampy, is a biochemist and physician, and his mother, Bina, teaches her four sons and three daughters at home. While his parents said they were proud of his academic achievements, his father said, “His character is what we are most pleased with.”

Newspapers usually sponsor spelling-bee contestants; Thampy was sponsored by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. His winning word was “demarche” — the latest in a

long list of grand-champion spelling
words that have spelled victory for winners since 1925.

Although Scripps-Howard has sponsored the competition annually since 1941, no contests were held in 1943, 1944 or 1945 because of World War II.

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