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Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014

Olathe 12-year-old Vanya Shivashankar earns a fourth trip to national spelling bee

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She did it again.

For the third year in a row, and the fourth time overall, Vanya Shivashankar has won a spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

On Thursday morning, the beaming California Trails seventh grader clutched her first place trophy at the Olathe Spelling Bee, which took place at Frontier Trail Middle School. The bee is sponsored by The Star’s sister publication, The Olathe News.

The district win qualifies Vanya to attend the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C., in May and brings her a dictionary donated by Merriam-Webster. Last year, she made it to fifth place in the televised national competition. This year, she hopes to outrank that position.

Although Vanya is an old pro at reciting spellings in front of a crowd, the 12-year-old doesn’t plan on retiring her dictionary just yet.

In the months before the national competition, she’ll be intently studying not only spellings, but word patterns, definitions, origins and languages.

“There are still a bunch of words I don’t know and I’m always learning new ones,” she said. “At nationals, they can ask any word out of the dictionary, which is a little scary.”

Like every year, she might turn to her older sister, Kavya, for advice.

Kavya won the Olathe Spelling Bee four times as a kid and took home the first place trophy at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2009.

Although Vanya appears to be walking in her older sister’s footsteps, her father says his younger daughter puts her all into each spelling bee because she truly loves it.

“Kids really ought to enjoy what they’re doing in order to succeed,” said Mirle Shivashankar. “Spelling can be boring if you don’t enjoy it. If my daughter wasn’t having fun, she wouldn’t be doing it.”

While it’s fun, it’s also a lot of hard work, he added.

“When you’re in a spelling bee, there is no second chance,” Shivashankar said. “One slip of the tongue or one letter off and you have to wait until next year to start the process all over again.”

This year, the doting father was impressed by the competition his daughter faced at the district spelling bee.

“Not only am I proud of Vanya, but I’m proud of all the kids who competed because everyone did so well,” he said. “The caliber of kids has significantly increased since the bee started eight years ago. The enthusiasm of spelling bees has become contagious and more kids are coming prepared, which is exciting to see.”

One of those fierce competitors was Amrith Samuel, a fifth grader at Cedar Creek Elementary School.

He was in the running for first place until he misspelled ‘patrician.’

Coming in second, however, didn’t crush his spirit.

“I’m just really happy I made it this far,” said Amrith, who won fifth place in the district bee last year. “I practiced a lot.”

His father, Prem Samuel, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he watched his son hold his trophy on stage.

“Amrith is very persistent and he doesn’t give up,” he said. “He’s small but feisty and a very hard worker.”

He joked that the scene was a bit like déjà vu, however.

In 2009, his older son Ashwanth, who is now in high school, placed second to Kavya in the district spelling bee.

He hopes maybe one day, the tables will be turned.

“It’s a little bit of a rivalry,” he said with a laugh. “But we are sincerely impressed with Vanya and think her family is great. We’re very proud of Amrith and we’re excited to see how he does next year.”

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