National Spelling Bee Nana Addo

Dakota Valley Middle School seventh-grader Nana Addo was not among the 40 finalists at the Scripps Spelling Bee on Thursday. He was eliminated during the second preliminary round that preceded the finals. 

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | Whether he's in a classroom, on a basketball court or in a contest with some of the top spellers around, Nana Addo, 13, wants to be the very best.

"I work hard," the Dakota Valley Middle School seventh grader said. "So yeah, I want to come out on top in everything that I do."

Nana displayed this competitive streak when he took home the top prize at South Dakota's Scripps Spelling Bee, held March 18 at the University of South Dakota.

"The winning word was 'doila,'" he remembered. "It's the name of a large earthenware jar used by ancient Romans."

Next Nana will be taking his spelling supremacy to the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, May 31-June 1 in Washington, D.C.

More than 11 million students participate in the local, regional and state preliminary rounds of Scripps National Spelling Bee every year. Nana will be among the 291 (age 14 and under) spellers who've earned a place to compete in the finals.

Nana will be joined by contestants from around the United States, as well as spellers coming from as far away as Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; and American Samoa.

"Among other things, the winner will receive a $40,000 check, a $2,500 U.S. Savings Bond, a $5,000 (Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Fund Foundation) scholarship and appear as a guest on 'Live with Kelly' morning TV show," he noted.

But Nana also wants the bragging rights that come with being the top speller around.

It's the reason he's been entering spelling contests since the second grade. And it's also the reason he's been staying up until the wee hours of the morning, testing his spelling mettle in preparation for this year's contest.

"I didn't get to bed until 3:45 a.m. last night," Nana said. "I have a lot of pent-up energy and my concentration is greatest at bedtime."

Still, he said his dad (Dr. Frank Addo, a cardiologist) and mom (Lydia Addo, a hospital stenographer) are his biggest fans, in addition to being his toughest coaches.

"My dad and I work with a software program where every word is available to us," Nana said. "When I work with my mom, I'll get credit for each word I spell correctly. For the word that I miss, I must write it out five times in a row."

"You'd be surprised how helpful it is to actually write out a word by hand," he added. "It stays in your memory forever."

OK, what's the toughest word that Nana has ever come across? 

"Subcutaneous," he answered without hesitation. "It literally means 'under your skin.' When you're given a shot, the doctor gives you a subcutaneous injection because it goes to the tissue right below the skin."

Chances are good that Nana will come across medical terms like "subcutaneous" in the future. After all, he wants to become a medical technician when he grows up.

"My preference would be to get accepted in an Ivy League school," he said. "If I can't get into the Ivy League, then I'll try for Duke University or, maybe, the University of North Carolina."

If Nana seems like an unusually studious seventh grader, well, then you're right.

Still, he likes the same things that 13-year-old boys would like.

For instance, Nana loves reading "Pendragon: Journal of an Adventure Through Time and Space," the series of science fantasy novels written by D.J. MacHale; enjoys listening to rapper Kendrick Lamar; and can't get enough of the NBA.  

"I lived in Chicago when I was younger," he said. "That means I was raised a fan of the Bulls. But the Michael Jordan era has come and gone. Nowadays, I'm a Cleveland (Cavaliers) fan due to LeBron James."

Even though he knows he'll never be as accomplished as LeBron is on a basketball court, Nana understands the value of discipline and hard work.

Indeed, he considers a spelling contest to be as competitive as any sporting event.

"There's a reason why the final rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee are telecast on ESPN," Nana said. "You have to train as hard as an athlete if you want to win."

This is exactly what keeps Nana up at night.

"When I set my mind to something, I know nothing's impossible," he said. "It would be a dream come true to become the best speller in the country."


Food and Lifestyles reporter

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