Baltimore Spelling Champ Determined to Win National Spelling Bee

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Eight-year old Shaheer Imam’s first walk onto the national stage of elite spellers ended earlier than he would have liked, but the Al-Rahmah School stand-out from Baltimore, Maryland still has 5 more years to compete for the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship.

Shaheer spelled both of his Round 2 and Round 3 words correctly – “capricious” and “quinzaine” – but when his round 1 test score was factored in he did not make it to the semi-final round.

The round 1 test is a computerized test of 50 words, 25 of which are scored.

“The round one test is the hardest because it has words from all over the dictionary,” said Shaheer. “I need to work harder for next year and learn all the [word] patterns.”

Shaheer, the second youngest competitor out of a field of 277 of the best spellers from across the nation and from participating schools around the world – most who were 13 years or older – won his school’s spelling bee and then the Baltimore County spelling bee the earn his spot at the national bee. His older sister Danyah who also served as one of his coaches tied for first place at Al-Rahmah’s bee, and placed among the top competitors at the Baltimore Bee.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee took place over three days from May 29 through May 31 at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Spellers were sponsored by local businesses and organizations in their regions.

Shaheer has already started studying for next year’s bee. He put in a few hours each weeknight and up to 12 hours on weekends in the months preceding the national bee. His sister and parents are his coaches, although many of the competitors at the national level hire coaches to help them master roots and patterns – keys to spelling uncommon words which often have origins in other languages.

Like previous years, the 2012 national bee was disproportionately dominated by Indian students. There were around 5 Muslim students in the national bee, Shaheer being the sole representative of Islamic school.

A bus full of Al-Rahmah School students and teachers attended the semi-final round.

Shaheer told the Muslim Link he was most inspired by speller number 89, Gifton Wright from Jamaica.  The hard working student with 10 siblings made it to the ninth round. “I was kind of sad when he got out,” said Shaheer.

Shaheer’s message to the community was not about himself, rather it was about Islamic schooling.

“I want to tell the [students] in the community to work hard, and to tell the community that the best schools for their children are the Islamic schools. We all should support the Islamic schools in the area,” said Shaheer.

When asked if he thinks he can win the national title in the five years he has left to compete, with little hesitation Shaheer responded. “In shaa Allah in less than five years.”