Largo 8th grader wins National Spelling Bee
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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The same sensitive microphone used to pick up the letters that spellers had been delicately pronouncing all night now picked up Dev Shah’s deep breath.

In through the nose, out through the mouth.

“Dev Shah,” the announcer said. “If you spell this next word correctly, we will declare you the 2023 National Spelling Bee Champion.”

He forgot to add the “no pressure.”

The Largo 14-year-old was prepared. Years of reading dictionaries and studying word origins and roots brought him to this moment. He started getting into spelling bees in second grade and got inspired by watching people on TV. As he kept progressing, he started taking it seriously and competing in sixth grade.

“I was interested by how some words were spelled and why they were spelled like that,” Shah explained over Zoom from an empty bar in Washington, D.C. after the championship. “Why does answer have a silent W? And I still don’t know.”

The only problem with finding his passion in sixth grade: he has three years of eligibility for the Scripps National Spelling Bee before he ages out. After being eliminated in sixth and seventh grade, he had one shot left. But he refocused that fact into an advantage.

“That gave me more experience,” Shah said. “I think more experience is equivalent to more confidence.”

The final word his Bee hinged on — psammophile — a plant or animal that thrives in sandy areas.

After he heard it, the hints of a smile creep across his face. He knew it. And he would have no reason not to, after spending upwards of eight hours a day studying large swaths of words from the dictionary and going over word origins and roots, which is exactly what he asked the judges for.

“I was really excited when I heard it,” Shah recalled. “But I just didn’t want to get too ahead of myself, so I was still being careful when I got that word.”

As he rattled off the letters, acutely aware of the bell that had been ringing out incorrect answers all night, he reached the end. Applause filled the room. The rest was a blur.

“I vaguely remember it, because a lot was happening,” Shah remembered. “The confetti scared me and then the CEO of Scripps just came to give me the cup.”

While his son may not recall everything, Deval Shah, his father, does.

“The stress level was super high,” Deval said. “It was probably visible.”

Friends later told Deval they saw the stress more on his face than his wife’s, especially when Dev was given words with unknown origins. But psammophile was Greek — this was a layup, Deval thought.

“When I heard Ppsammophile, I think he knew, but there’s always nerves,” Deval explained. “Because here, in the National Spelling Bee, the reason many of the great spellers scrape is the pressure.”

So when his son finished the word, all that pressure was gone. The only concern Deval has now is what the family will do for summer vacations since they booked all their trips around Dev’s spelling competitions.

“We both, my wife as well,” Deval said. “We feel really proud that Dev worked so hard.”

But Dev remains reserved about his win, even though he’s just the third Floridian to have won and the first since 1999.

“If the Bee was held today or another day, someone else could have easily won,” Shah said, praising his competitors. “So everyone was equally good.”

Despite being $50,000 richer (it’s going to his college fund, he said) and brief fame (appearances on the TODAY Show and ringing the NASDAQ bell on Monday), Shah is ready to go back to his home and relax away his summer before high school.

“I never did it for [the fame],” Shah said. “I just did it because I liked it, and eventually I won.”

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