Calm Tower Lakes teen finishes second in National Spelling Bee
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OXON HILL, Md. — Competing in his third National Spelling Bee, 13-year-old Pranav Sivakumar of Tower Lakes said he was no longer nervous.
Pranav took second place in the in the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night. Arvind Mahankali, 13, of New York was crowned the winner.
Both Pranav and Arvind rarely appeared flustered onstage, but Pranav was tripped up by "cyanophycean," the word for a blue-green alga.
Arvind correctly spelled "knaidel," the word for a small mass of leavened dough, and was named the winner.
Pranav, who attends Barrington Middle School Station Campus, was in his final year of eligibility. He had some great interplay with the audience and spelling bee officials Thursday, such as when he greeted Jacques A. Bailly, the official pronouncer, in Latin. Pranav had put a particular emphasis on studying Latin.
He said he was relieved to make it past the semifinals after missing a word in the same round in both 2011 and 2012.
"I don't think I'm nervous anymore," Pranav said. "The semifinals was always the stumbling block for me."
Pranav and Arvind were the last survivors from a field of 281 contenders who arrived to compete for the title of champion speller of the English language. The field was whittled down from 42 semifinalists Thursday afternoon, with spellers advancing based on a formula that combined their scores from a computerized spelling and vocabulary test with their performance in two onstage rounds.
Pranav was one of only three spellers to earn a perfect score on the computer test.
Two other local spellers — Lucas Urbanski, 13, of Crystal Lake, who attends Immanuel Lutheran School, and Piper Winkler, 14, of Geneva, who attends Elgin Academy — were eliminated earlier. Urbanski went out in the sixth round, Winkler in the fifth.
Richard Moraga, 14, a Wood Dale resident who attends St. Pius X School in Lombard, was eliminated Wednesday.
Arvind outlasted 11 other finalists, all but one of whom had been to the National Spelling Bee before, in nearly 2½ hours of tense, grueling competition that was televised nationally. In one round, all nine participants spelled their words correctly.
When he was announced as the winner, Arvind looked upward at the confetti falling upon him and cracked his knuckles, his signature gesture during his bee appearances. He'll take home $30,000 in cash and prizes along with a huge cup-shaped trophy.
The skinny teen, clad in a white polo shirt and wire-rimmed glasses pushed down his nose, was joined onstage at the Washington-area hall by his parents and his beaming younger brother.
An aspiring physicist who admires Albert Einstein, Arvind said he would spend more time studying physics this summer now that he's "retired" from the spelling bee.
Arvind becomes the sixth consecutive Indian-American winner and the 11th in the past 15 years, a run that began in 1999 when Nupur Lala captured the title in 1999 and was later featured in the documentary "Spellbound."
Arvind's family is from Hyderabad in southern India, and relatives who live there were watching live on television.
"At home, my dad used to chant Telegu poems from forward to backward and backward to forward, that kind of thing," said Arvind's father, Srinivas. "So language affinity, we value language a lot. And I love language, I love English."
Sriram Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., finished third, and Amber Born, 14, of Marblehead, Mass., was fourth.
The vocabulary test was new. Some of the spellers liked it, some didn't, and many were in-between, praising the concept but wondering why it wasn't announced at the beginning of the school year instead of seven weeks before the national bee.
"It was kind of a different challenge," said Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, who finished tied for 5th place. "I've been focusing my studying on the spelling for years and years."
There were two multiple-choice vocabulary tests — one in the preliminaries and one in the semifinals — and they were administered in a quiet room away from the glare of the onstage parts of the bee. The finals were the same as always: no vocabulary, just spellers trying to avoid the doomsday bell.
There was a huge groan from the crowd when Arvind got his first German-derived word, "dehnstufe," an Indo-European long-grade vowel.
Milking the moment, he asked, "Can I have the language of origin?" before throwing his hands in the air with a wry smile.
"I had begun to be a little wary of German words, but this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn't worried," Arvind said.
He appeared to have more trouble with "galere," the word for a group of people having a marked common quality or relationship. He asked for the etymology twice — French and old Catalan — shifted his body back and forth and stroked his chin before getting it right with seconds to spare.
Amber, an aspiring comedy writer and crowd favorite, bowed out on "hallali," a huntsman's bugle call. She said, "I know, I know," when the clock told her time was running out, and she knew she had missed it, saying "That's not right" as she finished her effort.
The bee's growing popularity is reflected in an ESPN broadcast that gets more sophisticated each year. In the semifinals, Amber got to watch herself featured on a televised promo that also aired on the jumbo screen inside the auditorium.
She then approached the microphone and, referring to herself, deadpanned: "She seemed nice."
Vanya Shivashankar, at 11 the youngest of the finalists, fell short in her bid to become the first sibling of a previous winner to triumph. Her sister, Kavya, won in 2009. Vanya finished tied for 5th after misspelling "zenaida," the word for a type of pigeon.
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