As the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder battled it out in Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference finals on TNT television Thursday night, a more gripping contest was playing out on ESPN.
A nail-biter all the way, the ESPN live broadcast in the end featured a head-to-head competition between two young men for a national championship title of what is not exactly a sport, but just as exciting.
They were vying for the Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship, trying to prove they were the best of what started out as 281 spellers in the televised rounds, eventually reduced to 12 finalists, with a local youngster proving early that he was a major contender.
When it was all over — after there literally were no more words left on the list to be called — Ansun Sujoe, 13, of north Fort Worth and Sriram Hathwar of Corning, N.Y., were declared co-champions, the first time that had happened in 52 years.
While North Texans are particularly proud of the performance by Sujoe, who just finished seventh grade at Bethesda Christian School in Fort Worth, the entire country can take pride in both students who demonstrated great poise throughout the competition and exhibited both sincere humility and exceptional sportsmanship after learning they would share the title.
Throughout the contest, most of the contestants had shown a camaraderie rare among competitors these days, often encouraging each other through the nerve-racking rounds.
Sujoe said of his opponents, “I don’t recognize them as rivals or anything and trying to beat them. It’s kind of like a partnership to defeat the words.”
And there were some awesome words he had to conquer, like: croquignole, Aeschylean, lotophagi, feuilleton and augenphilologie. Most people could not pronounce those words, much less spell them.
Sujoe made it to the nationals for the first time last year. In March, he won the regional bee, which was sponsored by the Texas Christian University’s Center for Public Education and the Star-Telegram.
He represented the Fort Worth area well, and is returning home with a giant trophy, $33,000 in cash and plenty of bragging rights. Sujoe plans to defend his title next year.