Maryville Middle School sixth-grader Sakif Islam has spelled his way into the big time.
Winning spelling bees at both the county and regional levels this winter means that Sakif is headed for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 28-30.
The regional contest earlier this month is St. Joseph was essentially a rematch between Sakif and his friend and middle school classmate Hayden Mildward. The two boys also went head to head at the county contest in Graham, where they placed first and second.
In St. Joe, after all other competitors had been eliminated, Sakif and Hayden matched each other word for word over 20 rounds before Sakif pulled out the win by successfully spelling "Swahili," the name of a Bantu language widely used in East Africa.
First prize at the regional bee was a dictionary, which will come in handy as Sakif prepares for the national contest, where the stakes are considerably higher, and the winner goes home with around $35,000 in cash, scholarships and other prizes.
The son of Northwest Missouri State University biochemist Rafiq Islam and St. Francis Hospital and Health Services staffer Ismot Parvin, Sakif said he studies a list of 50 or so spelling words each night before taking an oral quiz administered by his mother.
After finishing second in the regional contest in 2012, Sakif said he figured he had a shot in 2013 because only 20 percent of the master list of words changes from year to year.
An excellent student with a sly smile and an engaging personality, Sakif said his favorite subjects are mathematics and social studies. He added that he is a little nervous about going up against other top spellers in D.C. but is nevertheless looking forward to the trip.
"My dad told me to let it be a learning experience, and just to do my best," he said.
The three-day event in the nation's capital is made up of four basic rounds, the first of which consists of a written 25-word test with each word worth one point.
Rounds two and three are oral contests in which each correctly spelled word is worth three points. The top 50 spellers from these preliminary heats qualify for round four, in which a misspelled word means elimination.
Traditionally, round four has been broadcast live on ESPN and ESPN2.