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Thursday, May. 31, 2012

Olathe speller vies for fame at national bee

The Star’s Washington correspondent

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Much of the early hype surrounding this year’s National Spelling Bee may have focused on 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison, the youngest child ever to compete in the event.

But while the Virginia girl was eliminated from competition Wednesday, a 10-year old speller from Olathe has been perfect so far.

Vanya Shivashankar, whose older sister won the national bee three years ago, was singled out for being the only speller among all 278 entrants to have received a perfect score on Tuesday’s first-round written test. Last year, five spellers hit that mark.

Visit http://www.kansascity.com/2012/05/30/3634618/area-spellers-vie-for-fame-at.html to watch Vanya spelling at the national bee this week.

And on the first day of oral competition Wednesday, Vanya spelled both of her words correctly: debellation and auteur.

Vanya is one of four Kansas City-area students competing in the 2012 bee. Jordan Gabriella Hoffman, 14, of Lee’s Summit, also advanced to today’s semifinals.

However, 14-year-olds Jacob Longmeyer of Pleasant Hill and Grant Pace of Parkville did not.

Vanya, Jacob and Grant each have been contestants once before, and this is Jordan’s third time on the national spelling stage.

Win or lose, Jordan said, “It’s really been a big part of my life. It’s such a blessing from God that I’ve made it back three times in a row.”

Vanya enters this year’s contest with quite a pedigree.

Along with her family, the Johnson County fifth-grader has been attending the bee for years. Her sister Kavya competed several times and brought the national crown back to Kansas in 2009.

Vanya was a national contestant in 2010.

“I’m used to it now,” Vanya said, sounding like an old pro just minutes before round three began Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not really nervous because I know I’m just having a great time.”

Vanya’s father, Mirle Shivashankar, said his younger daughter is “180 degrees” different in personality from his eldest.

Indeed, during Kavya’s successful run, Vanya was a live wire, often attracting attention as she cheered her older sister on.

“She’s a happy-go-lucky kid,” he said.

With an 85-year history, the bee is sponsored by the E.W. Scripps Co.

In all, the entrants represented 38 different languages. Math is their favorite subject, pizza their favorite food, soccer their favorite sport and the Harry Potter series their favorite movies.

In many instances, the spellers don’t know the word they are asked to spell, but try to figure it out through their knowledge of sounds, ethnic origins and other etymological characteristics.

Jordan said she was pleased from the outset because she was familiar with the first word she got — egress — which means the act of leaving some place.

“She’s put in an amazing amount of energy into her preparation, so I think she’ll feel good, no matter what,” said her father, Mark Hoffman.

This is the last bee for Jordan, Jacob and Grant. As eighth-graders, they’ve reached the eligibility cutoff.

But there could be more bees in the future for the Hoffman family. Jordan’s 9-year-old sister has been her constant helper.

“She also enjoys spelling,” Mark Hoffman said. “She hasn’t had a chance to start in bees yet. She really worked to help her big sister, so she’s learned a lot herself.”

The semifinals begin today at 9 a.m. CDT and will be broadcast live on ESPN2. The finals start at 7 p.m. and will air live on ESPN.

To reach David Goldstein, call 202-383-6106 or send email to dgoldstein@mcclatchydc.com.

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