JACKSON, MI – Twisha Shetty isn’t like many other past spelling bee winners – she doesn’t know which word made her a champion.

The Paragon Charter Academy seventh-grader won the 2021 MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot Spelling Bee, but the coronavirus pandemic-created event was unlike previous years because it was run through a Scripps computer program that relied on how many words a contestant correctly spelled, instead of rounds with elimination.

When she and second-place finisher Zionah Gardner, a Homer Middle School eighth-grader, tied for first place in the first competition, a tie-breaker of 22 out of 25 correct words made Twisha the top speller in the bee.

Twisha spent several hours a day for more than three weeks studying the list of words given ahead of the competition, she said.

“They gave me a set of words and my mom would say the pronunciation. I would try to spell that word without looking at it or seeing it before,” she said. “If I spelled it wrong, I would practice that word five to 10 times. Then she would give me little quizzes to see if I remembered that.”

Twisha bested 23 other students from nine schools in the 2021 competition. The test was a combination of 30 spelling words and vocabulary multiple choice. The site would pronounce a word for students, who then had to type the word in correctly.

Twisha and Zionah each scored 28 out of 30 in the initial bee – forcing an additional tiebreaking test. Twisha wasn’t expecting a tie-breaker test, she said, and her motivation struggled but her mother encouraged her to push through.

“At first I just wanted to wing it because I was very tired after studying for so many hours,” she said. “But my mom told me that I’d be proud of myself if I win, so I studied after that for another day.”

This isn’t Twisha’s first spelling bee. She was a third-place finisher at her previous school’s spelling bee two years ago. But this year was different because of the flexibility a written test provides.

“When you’re writing the words, it’s kind of easier because when you’re speaking you can make a mistake,” she said. “When you’re typing the words in before you enter them you can go over and check that you wrote it right or not.”

“We’re not a very expressive family, but we are elated,” Twisha’s father Santhosh Shetty said. “I thought she would probably make it in the top five, so I said OK, let’s do all the effort required and see where we go.”

The Scripps National Spelling Bee will host its preliminary, quarterfinal and semifinal events virtually this summer. Then, 10 to 12 finalists will travel to Orlando, Florida, for the in-person, broadcasted final rounds on July 8.

2021 MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot Spelling Bee top contestants

1st place – Twisha Shetty, seventh grade at Paragon Charter Academy

2nd place – Zionah Gardner, eighth grade at Homer Middle School

3rd place – Logan Hardke-Sayers, sixth grade at Springport Middle School

4th place – Ellen Presley, eighth grade at Battle Creek Lakeview Middle School

5th place – Emily Demlow, sixth grade at Battle Creek Lakeview Middle School

5th place – Hansika Rathod, sixth grade at Paragon Charter Academy

6th place – Mejia Chamberlain, eighth grade at Springport Middle School

6th place – Jordan Gibson, sixth grade at Homer Middle School

6th place – Jori Hilton, seventh grade at Battle Creek Lakeview Middle School

7th place – Acelyn Swaney, sixth grade at Townsend Elementary School

7th place – Emma Elmo, sixth grade at East Jackson Elementary School

7th place – Hailey Rocco – seventh grade, Homer Middle School

7th place – Quentin Green, sixth grade, Jonesville Middle School

8th place – Cash Allen, fifth grade at Michigan Center’s Keicher Elementary School

8th place – Carter Watkins, fifth grade at Battle Creek Lakeview Middle School

8th place – Ryanne Cunningham, seventh grade at Springport Middle School

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