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Monday, Jun. 04, 2012

Olathe speller stung at national bee

The Olathe News

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Vanya Shivashankar’s remarkable run at the Scripps National Spelling ended shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday with the word, “pejerrey,”a type of fish.

It proved too slippery to spell for the Olathe 10-year-old, whose infectious smile and bubbly demeanor had charmed most everyone who came into contact with her at the Scripps National Spelling Bee just outside the nation’s capital.

Vanya, a Regency Place Elementary fifth-grader making her second appearance at the spelling competition, didn’t stumble until the third semifinal round, after acing words like “mumpsimus” and “mascalage.” She’s following the path of her older sister, Kavya, who appeared in several bees before winning the national championship in 2009. Vanya still has three more potential bee appearances ahead of her.

The “happy-go-lucky” — her father’s words — speller still displayed the emotional seesaw of the intense competition. Though ebullient as ever even when she missed the word — “Thank you!” she said to the judges, with her broad trademark grin — a few moments later she buried her face her in her father’s shoulder as both he and Kavya consoled her.

The Olathe News sponsored Vanya.

The last speller from the metro area, 14-year-old Jordan Hoffman of Lee’s Summit, ended her run later with the word “canities” when the field had narrowed to just nine children.

She missed it by a single letter.

“I have peace because I did my absolute best,” Jordan said afterward.

The crown eventually went to a 14-year-old girl, Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego.

The final night of the bee was the culmination of a journey that began months ago when a series of 60,000 local spelling bees across the country involving more than 11 million students got under way. They studied, memorized and learned ethnic roots, definitions and language patterns. They drilled at home, with parents and siblings, and in school with classmates and teachers.

One girl memorized 23,000 words. Others spent hours each week poring over dictionaries.

The result: 278 contestants showed up this week in the vast ballroom of the posh Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C., to test their skills.

In the 85 years since the first bee, the event has become a springtime staple for ESPN that evokes all the drama and emotion of a blood-and-guts playoff game. The network covers the tension like a showdown at Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

The spellers are a melting pot of cultures, but they share a dynamism that comes out in their personalities and interests. Vanya plays the tuba, which is at least as big as she is. Jordan wrote an a cappella choral composition and dabbles in poetry.

Some do yoga to loosen up as they prepare to take the stage. Some spell the word on the palms of their hands to figure it out. They fear the bell, the death knell of their dreams. When it rang for a speller in the final round Thursday night, a collective moan rose from the audience, which then burst into a standing ovation as the disappointed contestant walked off the stage.

Before that, though, the speller on the hot seat peppered the word pronouncer with questions, trying to squeeze out as many clues as possible before the timekeeper gently warned, “Do you see the time?”

Upon hearing her word, Jordan’s eyes widened for an instant, perhaps betraying her unfamiliarity. She asked for the definition, alternate pronunciations, the language of origin and its use in a sentence.

But it was not enough. Still, she was moving on.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Jordan said. “But I’m looking forward to a summer of relaxation, without studying.”

And when words are just talk, and nothing more.

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