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Last year’s Boston spelling bee runner-up takes the trophy

Nicla Marabito, 12, got a kiss from her dad, Joe, after her victory. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Nicla Marabito had spent much of the year since she was the 2018 spelling bee runner-up learning to guess spellings from their language of origin.

But now the 12-year-old — wearing a placard that misspelled her own name — was the last one standing on the Boston Public Library stage Saturday afternoon in the annual citywide bee. And the unfamiliar championship word had no known origin, according to the judges.

“H-u-c-k-a-b-a-c-k,” Marabito spelled, nailing the word for a textured fabric used in towels which she — and much of the audience — had never heard before.

With that, for the second year in a row, the previous year’s runner-up in the bee claimed the city spelling trophy as Marabito, a sixth-grader at the Eliot K-8 Innovation School, pulled off a 33-round win at the library.


In the final rounds, she bested last year’s winner, Mira Yu, a Boston Latin eighth-grader who was also the 2017 runner-up, and Sulayman Abdirahman, to earn a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.

Joe Neilon, 10, of Charlestown and other contestants took part in a briefing before the annual citywide youth spelling bee.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Overall, more than 3,000 Boston public and parochial school students competed to qualify for the citywide bee, according to the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, which runs the event. That was whittled down to 21 contestants for Saturday’s bee, with many lasting well beyond last year’s 15 total rounds.

At that point, spellcheck started red-lining most of the words.

By the 27th round, Abdirahman, a fourth-grader from Brooke Charter School in Mattapan, correctly spelled “shrieval,” followed by Marabito’s “gesundheit,” and Yu’s “ipecac.”

(Others that a Globe reporter may have guessed incorrectly were “philippic,” “galjoen,” “pickelhaube,” and “pitchblende.”)

Saeed Saeed (right), 11, of East Boston listened on during the competition. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

But less-exotic words ultimately tripped up Abdirahman, 9, and Yu, 13, who made it to the third round of the national competition last year, according to Scripps’ website.


Misspellings of “coalition” and “embayment” left Marabito alone on the stage after over three hours of competition.

“Last year I was actually really surprised I came in second,” she said afterward. But she worked to improve, and this year, she said, “I expected myself to win.”

As her parents and two younger siblings looked on Saturday, she did just that.

“I’m very, very proud, “ said her father, Joe Marabito, 60. His daughter had begun studying over the summer for this year’s competition, digging into origin language rules and their many exceptions after her second-place finish.

The preparation paid off as she figured out at least four words she had not seen before based on their origin, according to her father.

He said they planned to celebrate his daughter’s win with a trip to the ice cream parlor.

But Nicla Marabito, whose favorite words include “weissnichtwo,” German for an unknown or imaginary place, had other ideas.

“I’m going to nationals,” she said as she stood beside her spelling bee trophy. “That’s a kind of celebration.”

Ronan Miller, 11, of West Roxbury pondered a word during the spelling bee.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Lucas Phillips can be reached at