Charlotte-area teen aims for Scripps Spelling Bee finals with lucky charm, secret trick

By Alexandra Karlinchak

Rabbits’ feet, four-leaf clovers and … zip-up hoodies? If you’re looking for an extra dose of luck, ask Sreethan Gajula for his advice.


The 14-year-old from Waxhaw, a semifinalist at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, beamed as he showcased his lucky jacket, his smile so large it pushed his rectangular glasses up a half-inch on his face.

The sweatshirt: An oversized, black Microsoft hoodie that his mother was given at a work conference.

Sreethan donned his lucky charm in the Marvin Ridge Middle School spelling bee in December and won. He zipped through the Scripps preliminary round on June 12. He got through the quarterfinals on June 15 with ease.

Now, days away from the national semifinals, Sreethan is certain that his jacket will not leave his side.

While his hoodie may help keep Sreethan calm and collected during some intense rounds of of spelling and grammar, it’s his love of literature that motivates him.

“I just like words,” he said. “If I am on my computer and see a word I am not familiar with, I look up the definition.”

Throughout quarantine and online schooling, the rising ninth-grader read the dictionary page-by-page and studied word stems and language rules. Sreethan knew that this would be his final chance to compete in the Scripps National Bee. He wants it. Badly. And if he pushes past the competition on Sunday, he will reach his goal.

Sreethan says his father and younger sister Samhita, 8, have been his most avid supporters. But it’s his mother, Smitha Vangamudi, who has served as his coach over the past year. Together, they go through pages of spelling drills a day and find patterns in spelling rules and language origins.

Read more here.

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