Fittest loser
Article updated: 5/31/2013 6:41 PM

Tower Lakes speller credits studying, support for 2nd-place finish

Vern Jones of Signarama updates a banner outside Barrington Middle School’s Station Campus recognizing the finish by student Pranav Sivakumar in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Vern Jones of Signarama updates a banner outside Barrington Middle School's Station Campus recognizing the finish by student Pranav Sivakumar in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

 

JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

An updated banner outside Station Middle School in Barrington recognizes the second-place finish by student Pranav Sivakumar in the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee.

An updated banner outside Station Middle School in Barrington recognizes the second-place finish by student Pranav Sivakumar in the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee.

 

JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

Pranav Sivakumar

Pranav Sivakumar

 
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You won't find an old-school, marked-up dictionary in Pranav Sivakumar's bedroom.

A true 21st-century learner, the eighth-grader at Barrington Middle School's Station Campus instead turns to online word lists, spelling communities and a CD-ROM for his study materials.

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The Tower Lakes teen's modern methods paid off in a big way Thursday with a second-place finish -- and $12,500 in prize money -- at the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md.

"The semifinals have always been my stumbling block, so my goal was just to make it to the finals," Pranav, 13, said Friday. "I definitely wasn't expecting this."

After leaving Maryland the past two years finishing in 27th and then 22nd place, Pranav buckled down even more and studied one to two hours every weekday and five to six hours on the weekends.

"It was clear all his cumulative studying over time worked," his father, Siva Muthuswamy, said. "It came through how he was able to spell words based on his knowledge and put those words together like a puzzle."

Case in point: "Spenglerian," a theory holding that all major cultures undergo similar cyclical developments from birth to maturity to decay, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

"I didn't know the word," Pranav said. "So I kind of thought it out. German words typically end in 'er' and suffixes in 'ian,' so I figured it out."

He knew the spelling of all the other words until getting tripped up by "cyanophycean," the word for a blue-green algae.

Pranav, who plays piano and helped his school's Scholastic Bowl academic competition team win a state, national and international title, said he remained collected by blocking out the lights and cameras of the national telecast, and concentrating on the words.

He also introduced a bit of levity, greeting official pronouncer Jacques A. Bailly in Latin.

"I've taken Latin the past three years, and he's a professor of classics," Pranav said.

Pranav planned to attend the spelling bee's farewell awards dinner Friday and travel home today before heading back to Station Middle School on Monday for the last day of school. He'll be greeted by a banner and enthusiastic classmates, none of whom could watch the championship round live due to graduation.

"I had a teacher texting me during the ceremony so that I could provide updates," Principal Craig Winkelman said. "It was great because he kept getting the words right. People were really getting into it."

Winkelman describes Pranav as a well-rounded, dedicated student who has a passion for math and science. Pranav said he wants to be an astrophysicist because of his fascination with how the universe works.

"It feels good that a lot of kids in my school have been supporting me," Pranav said. "That motivated me."

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