'Innovator': Northeast Middle's Ananya Mantri named top speller

photos by Thomas Howard / The Meridian Star

2022 Lauderdale County Spelling Bee winners stand with their trophies Thursday at Meridian Little Theatre. Pictured are first place winner Ananya Mantri of Northeast Middle, second place winner Cameron Brunelle of Southeast Middle, third place winner Callie Cottrill of West Lauderdale Middle and fourth place winner Taylor Dean of Clarkdale High.

Lauderdale County named a new spelling bee champion Thursday at Meridian Little Theater.

Northeast Middle School seventh grader Ananya Mantri out- spelled her competition and brought home the trophy with a champion-level word: Innovator.

The annual spelling bee brought the 50 top spellers from around Lauderdale County  together to compete for the top spot and a chance to compete in the 2022 Mississippi Spelling Bee March 12 in Columbus. The event was sponsored by The Meridian Star, Meridian Little Theatre and the Lauderdale County School District.

Mantri spelled her way through 19 rounds of competition, with the last nine rounds being a head-to-head showdown against second place winner, Cameron Brunelle, a seventh grader from Southeast Middle School.

West Lauderdale Middle School’s Callie Cottrill and Clarkdale High’s Taylor Dean filled out the winner’s podium at third and fourth place.

Prior to the competition’s start, Lauderdale County School District Superintendent John Mark Cain highlighted the importance of spelling and the part it plays in students’ lives as they apply for college, find jobs and launch their careers.

“As you move on through your career, in a few years you’ll start filling out those job applications and those college admissions slips,” he said. “And I can tell you one of the most frustrating things as you start to write those stories, right those applications is how do you spell that.”

Cain encouraged the contestants to approach the words as challenges and obstacles to be overcome. Facing challenges is part of life, he said, and the spelling bee was a good place for students to show others and themselves they could be successful.

“All of you will have careers, and all of you will face success in life and difficulties and setbacks as well,” he said. “So use this as another opportunity. Use it as a way for you to find out truly what your strengths are.”

Mantri will go on to compete in the state spelling bee in Columbus, and the state bee winner will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland in June. Host for the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee will be LeVar Burton, and will be broadcast on ION and Bounce.

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