DeKalb spelling champ stumped by Irish word

Simola Nayak knew how to spell "cisele," but stumbled on the word for an Irish irregular soldier or bandit.

The 13-year-old DeKalb County girl fell out of the semifinal Scripps National Spelling Bee Championships Thursday when she misspelled "rapparee," a 17th century word that she thought had one "p."

Simola was among 50 semifinalists competing for a $30,000 scholarship, after more than 200 others were eliminated in preliminary rounds. She said she was disappointed to hear the bell indicating she'd erred.

"The worst moment was when I heard that ding," she said. "I thought I’d be a finalist. I was just one place short."

Simola, who just finished eighth grade at Henderson Middle School, had high-powered cheerleaders. Both U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and U.S. Rep Jack Kingston wished her well on their Twitter feeds. Of course, DeKalb school officials were watching. She "did DeKalb proud," they said on their official Twitter feed.

In March, Simola correctly spelled "tautologous" to win the 51st annual Georgia Association of Educators State Spelling Bee. That victory earned her an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. this week to compete in the national event.

"I couldn’t have been prouder if she was my own child," said Susan Tallant, a GAE consultant who accompanied Simola Thursday. Tallant said the last year someone from Georgia won was 1950.

Simola's father, Subrat Nayak, previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his daughter had practiced a half-hour to an hour a day since December. He said she reads a lot and looks up unfamiliar words, as well as words that are similar to the unfamiliar word.

Simola won school-wide spelling bees in the fifth and seventh grades and was the state runner-up last year.

She made it through round five Thursday, correctly spelling "ciselé," according to DeKalb school officials monitoring the event. The adjective refers to patterns on velvet.

Also competing from Georgia was Rachael Cundey of Augusta. The 13-year-old won a bee sponsored by The Augusta Chronicle. She was eliminated in the same round as Simola.

The Cox Washington news bureau contributed to this article.