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Queens speller Arvind Mahankali ready for next year’s bee


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photos by Mark Bowen / Scripps National Spelling Bee

Queens whiz Arvind Mahankali will never forget how to spell “schwannoma.”

Mahankali’s spellbinding run at the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in third place for the second consecutive year after misspelling the word as s-c-h-v-o-n-o-m-a and hearing the dreaded ding of elimination.

“I tried an educated guess, but I was not completely sure,” said Mahankali, 12, of the German name-based word that means a type of cancer.

Sitting in the stands with his wife, Bhavani, and other son, Srinath, Mahankali’s father, Srinivas, knew the word might cause trouble.

“He had never come across it in his studies,” said Srinivas, who added he rarely gets nervous watching, because as soon as he hears the word, he knows Mahankali will get it.

On the way to his third-place finish, which earned him $7,500, Mahankali handled words ranging from phrontistery — an establishment for learning — to maieutic — a stylized bird motif traditional in Pennsylvania German art.

“On the stage I am actually somewhat nervous, because I’m hoping that it’s a word that I know,” Mahankali said of the bee, televised nationally on ESPN. “There are actually quite a few words that I don’t know.”

Even though he missed out on the top prize, Mahankali said he wasn’t very disappointed and is already back studying for next year’s bee, his final year eligible.

His study habits include finishing the unabridged dictionary — which he admitted is much easier said than done — and quizzes from his parents.

“I quiz him whenever I come across any good words with spellings that defy pronunciation,” his father said.

The seventh grader plans to study German words after being eliminated in consecutive years on Deutsch-based terms.

“There are some pretty hard words in German,” the Bayside Hills resident said.

When he isn’t reading the dictionary, Mahankali loves playing tennis and basketball. With few jobs for professional spellers, Mahankali would like to become a physicist, like his idol Albert Einstein, or a computer programmer like his father.

Mahankali received a hero’s welcome on his return to school, complete with cupcakes and a visit from Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who came to congratulate the J.H.S. 74 student.

Srinivas said the whole family is proud of the speller and excited for his last shot at first next year.

“Next year, I think I have a very good chance of winning,” Mahankali said. “But you can never be completely sure; there are a lot of really good competitors.”