Spellers from Fairfax and Loudoun counties are among just 30 students who advanced Tuesday to the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Akshita Balaji of Merrifield, representing Fairfax, and Ashrita Gandhari of Leesburg, representing Loudoun, each spelled two words correctly during Tuesday's quarterfinal rounds and also correctly provided the definition of a third word.
Preliminary rounds of the national bee are being conducted virtually and began Saturday with 209 spellers who qualified by winning their local or regional spelling bee. After three rounds of competition Saturday, just 74 spellers moved on to Tuesday's quarterfinals.
Balaji, Gandhari and the other 28 spellers remaining will compete in the semifinals on June 27 at 7 p.m., broadcast on ESPN2. The field will be narrowed that evening to between 10 and 12 spellers, who will travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where the final rounds will be held in person on July 8.
Because the preliminary rounds are being conducted virtually, spellers are required to use laptops and headsets provided by the National Bee, must keep their hands in view of the camera while competing, and had to have a proctor in the room with them.
During Tuesday's quarterfinals, Balaji spelled anorthopia and chapeau correctly and provided the correct definition for pique.
Balaji, 14, is an eighth-grader at Carson Middle School who won the Fairfax County bee, sponsored by the Fairfax County Council PTA. She tied for 51st in the 2019 national bee, the last time the event was held.
Gandhari correctly spelled paseo and pomfret and correctly defined propitiate.
Ghandari, also 14, is an eight-grader at Stone Hill Middle School who won the Loudoun County bee, sponsored by Loudoun County Public Schools. She is competing in the national bee for the fourth time, having previously finished tied for 35th in 2017, tied for 42nd in 2018 and tied for 51st in 2019.
Another Northern Virginia speller, Keona Thomas of Manassas Christian School, winner of the Prince William Regional Spelling Bee sponsored by InsideNoVa, was eliminated in the third round on Saturday.
A third speller from Virginia, Jenna Ng of Lynchburg, reached Tuesday's quarterfinals but was eliminated when she misspelled toxophorous.