Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

National Spelling Bee: One Of My Favorite Events Of The Year

My favorite days of the year tend to be the last two weekdays at the end of May and July Fourth.

Why? Because the Scripps National Spelling Bee and Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest are my two favorite events on the sports calendar. With the Spelling Bee starting tomorrow--it will be just as good, plus this year ESPN adds Erin Andrews--it's time to give you my picks to spell it all the way to the top.

Just to give myself credibility, last year I had the eventual winner Evan O'Dorney as my fifth pick out of the 286 spellers. Who wouldn't have gone with little kid, big brained Samir Patel, who bowed out uncharacteristically early in his final go?

Before I start, I'm challenging myself a little more this year by only picking a top five. With a record 288 spellers, it's going to a tough task, to say the least.

Tia Thomas

1. Tia Natasha-Elizabeth Thomas, Speller No. 13
Oakhurst, California

She's one of two five-time repeaters and I like the experience. even though her local tests are written, not oral, she's used to this deal. Going against Thomas? She's home schooled, which sounds better in a contest like this, but the stats tell another story. Five of the last seven winners have gone to public schools. One final note to make here: A winner hasn't had a hyphen in their name since Jody-Ann Maxwell won with "Chiaroscurist" in 1998.

Kavya Shivashankar

2. Kavya Shivashankar, Speller No. 107
Olathe, Kansas

I picked her in this spot last year after I saw her great run in 2006. She's the most dangerous of the kids with three years experience and the best chance of those who are of Indian decent. After winning five of seven from 1999 to 2005, the Indians haven't hoisted the cup the last two years.

Matthew Evans

3. Matthew Evans, Speller No. 162
Albuquerque, New Mexico

The other five-time repeater who always gets close, but can't finish it out. The bottom line here is I had to put another guy up top here. The Males have won 10 of the last 15 contests and seven out of the last eight.

Anqi Dong

4. Anqi Dong, Speller No. 39
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

If a Canadian is ever going to win the spelling be, this guy is your man, or man-child, that is. He's a four-time repeater and finished eighth in last year's contest. He's got glasses (at least the last time we saw a pic of him), which isn't a strong indicator. Four out of the last eight champs, or 50 percent, wore glasses.

Sameer Mishra

5. Sameer Mishra, Speller No. 97
West Lafayette, Indiana

Though he wasn't a top speller last year, Mishra is the only four-year repeater who has also had a family member in the contest before. With 230 contestants saying they rely on just family and friends, having a demanding speller of a parent is an important trait when considering a winner.

Good luck to all the spellers. If you don't win, I hear there's some good candy in the "Comfort Room."

Questions?  Comments?