Sibling rivalry spells success: See who's headed to the National Bee

Scripps National Spelling Bee

Bettie Closs remembers it like it was yesterday.

Bettie was a first-grader at Little River Elementary School, participating in her first spelling bee and misspelled the words business and exercise.

"I got home and told my mom about the spelling bee and how I misspelled exercise," said Bettie, now a ninth-grader at Northern High School . "It was pretty humiliating, and I think that got her to thinking that this might be something that my children can do."

Those early misspelled words launched a prolific spelling career in which Bettie got far more words right than wrong. She was often the best speller in Durham County and three times earned a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C..

Bettie has aged out of spelling competitions, but has passed the baton to sister Hanna who recently won the Duke University Regional Spelling Bee and is heading to the 91st annual Scripps National Spelling Bee May 29-June 1 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The finals will be broadcast on ESPN, May 31, beginning at 8:30 p.m.

"You have to have a lot of dedication," said Hanna, an eighth-grader at Lucas Middle School who spends a couple of hours each day studying for spelling competitions. "You have to set your goals high and spend a lot of time on it and give it 110 percent."

Hanna realized she was a pretty good speller in second-grade after she finished third in a school spelling bee won by sister, Hanna.

As she prepares for the National Bee, Hanna said she feels confident about getting through the first couple of rounds.

But regardless of where she finishes, her sister and one-time rival, will be there for support.

"When I was winning, she was always there beside me," Bettie said. "She was always catching up and sometimes she knew words that I didn't. She's caught up now. I'm proud of her."

The Sachdev brothers

Over in Wake County, sibling spellers Rohan and Rahul Sachdev have dominated that county's spelling competitions for as long as anyone can remember.

Like Bettie in Durham, Rohan, a freshman at Enloe High School, has aged out of spelling competitions, paving the way for Rahul, who won the to step into the spotlight.

Rahul, a seventh-grader at Carnage Middle School in Raleigh, knows he has a tough act to follow when he arrives at the National Bee. Rohan tied for 12th nationally last year and earned a prime time spot on the ESPN broadcast of the competition.

"I have always looked up to him and been inspired by him," Rahul said.

But underneath that admiration lies a spirited, healthy competition between the brothers. Rahul competed in the National Bee in 2016 after beating his big brother in the Wake County spelling competition.

The two brothers are also outstanding tennis players, and are often ranked among the top players nationally in their age groups. Rahul said practice matches can sometimes become "very competitive."

This year's visit to the National Bee will be different for Rahul, because only he and his father, Rajan Sachdev, will make the trip. Rohan cannot attend because he is in the middle of final exams.

"It'll be the first time we're not going as a family," Rahul said. "I'm not too happy about that. I like when we're all together."

Spelling judges beware, if Rahul is asked to spell Auftaktigkeit, he's going to slay it. The word of German origin, meaning all musical phrases begin on an upbeat, is his absolute favorite to spell.

In all, there will be 20 spellers representing North Carolina this year, up from 14 last year. Other area students among the 519 competing the National Bee include, Akshar Yeccherla of Cary and Cameron Glogower of Clayton.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645