Seven suburban students headed to national spelling bee

Seven suburban students are heading to the Washington, D.C., area in May to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The latest to join the roster are Pranav Kollu of Algonquin, who became Kane County's champion speller, and two co-champions crowned in Lake County - eighth-graders Sharanya Pastapur of Lake Zurich Middle School North and Anmol Dash from Daniel Wright Junior High School in Lincolnshire.

Other regional champions headed to nationals include Atman Balakrishnan, a sixth-grader at Hinsdale Middle School; Calvin Franke, a seventh-grader at Plum Grove Junior High School in Rolling Meadows; Brooke Danz, a fifth-grader at Riverwood Elementary School in McHenry; and Gabriel Ennin, an eighth-grader at Heritage Grove Middle School in Plainfield.

Pranav, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, won the Kane County bee after two hours and 62 rounds of spelling and vocabulary challenges. He won by correctly spelling "dégagé" - meaning relaxed, from French origin.

"I was very nervous," Pranav said. "I was happy, very relieved to finally get this far. Going to the nationals is going to be very scary and also be very nerve-racking. It wasn't a dream until second grade."

Mom Lakshmi Tadi, a Java developer and programmer, has prepared a new list of words from previous Scripps spelling bees for Pranav to practice.

"He has been really good with spelling since he was 4," she said. "Pranav is super excited. The next two months are going to be tough."

Atman, 11, won the DuPage County spelling bee after 13 rounds and correctly spelling "brachylogy" - derived from Greek meaning concise expression - and "portulaca" - derived from Latin meaning a genus of tropical flowering plants. His father, Balu Natarajan, competed in the national spelling bee twice before becoming the 1985 champion, and he later served as a judge.

Atman said he is not fazed by having a former champion for a father or nervous about competing on a national stage. He has been working toward this goal since third grade.

"I'm very passionate. I feel like my dad winning is an inspiration and not something that pressures me," he said. "I am very excited for the nationals. It's going to be a great experience. I have the whole family helping me, even my little brother. Everybody plays a big part, and I feel that's one of the most important things."

It took 21 rounds for Calvin, 13, to nab the suburban Cook County championship. He won by correctly spelling "ethology" - the study of animal behavior.

"He has worked so hard, and we are so proud," said mom and "word finder" Marianne Franke of Palatine. "It's a dream."

Calvin has won school spelling contests four times and twice at the district level, as well as the area and regional contests this year.

"Every year he's learned from his mistakes, and it's just been a progression for him," Franke said.

"He just can't even believe it's actually true. He is working off a list of over 30,000 words right now to try and learn and figure out the patterns before the (national) competition."

Brooke won the McHenry County spelling bee after 31 rounds of tough words, including "echt," "novillero," "rendezvous" and "hemerocallis." Her winning word was "Topeng" - a dramatic form of Indonesian dance with performers wearing masks and ornate costumes.

The 10-year-old is excited about the national contest and looking forward to the trip, said mom and spelling coach Robyn Danz of McHenry.

"The nice thing about her being so young is she is pretty naive," Danz said.

"She is taking it all in stride. She's never been on a plane before."

The Scripps National Spelling Bee begins May 27. The final round takes place at 8:30 p.m. May 31 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland.

Suburban son of 1985 spelling champ follows in his footsteps

Calvin Franke, 13, a seventh-grader from Plum Grove Junior High School in Rolling Meadows, won the Cook County regional spelling bee after correctly spelling "ethology" - the scientific study of animal behavior. He is among seven suburban students who will be competing in the national spelling bee in May. Courtesy of Marianne Franke
Gabriel Ennin, 14, an eighth-grader at Heritage Grove Middle School in Plainfield, won Will County's regional spelling bee by correctly spelling "epigraphic." He is headed to the national spelling bee along with six other suburban contestants. Courtesy of Will County Regional Office of Education
Atman Balakrishnan, 11, a sixth-grader from Hinsdale Middle School, won the DuPage County bee. His father, Balu Natarajan, far left, is the 1985 national spelling bee champion. Atman is accompanied here by his mother, Meenakshi, center, grandparents, Janaky, far right, and Chanda Natarajan, second from left, and younger brother, Advaith, 9. Courtesy of DuPage County Regional Office of Education
Brooke Danz, 10, fifth-grader at Riverwood Elementary School in McHenry, won the McHenry County spelling bee after 31 rounds. She's headed to the national spelling bee in May along with six other suburban contestants. Courtesy of Robyn Danz
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