Tag Archives: spelling bee

Flushing student to compete in Scripps National Spelling Bee, aims for back-to-back Queens champs

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

What’s that buzzing?

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is quickly approaching, and Queens could have another student bring back a golden honey-colored trophy from Washington D.C. on Thursday.

In 2013, Bayside Hills resident Arvind Mahankali became the king bee in his final eligible year. This year, Flushing’s Sai Vishudhi Chandrasekhar is back for another round of the contest, but a new challenger from the borough is eager to take the stage as well.

Anil Singh, a fifth grader at P.S./I.S. 499 in Flushing, is set to debut in the National Spelling Bee and battle 280 other young wordsmiths around the country for the crown.

“I’m honored to have this opportunity and I won’t let [Queens] down,” Anil said.

Anil has been participating in spelling bees since second grade when he said his teacher forced the class to engage in the activity, which he thought was “weird.”

“I thought it was some random, weird oral spelling test,” said Anil, a South Ozone Park resident.

The entire class lost on the word “sandal,” and Anil remembers spelling it “s-a-n-d-e-l.” But after that mistake he didn’t miss a word, eventually facing a classmate in a showdown for the second grade title. He spelled the word “pilot” correctly to win his first-ever bee.

“After that I found out what a spelling bee was and I liked it, and I did it the next year, and the next year and the year after that,” Anil said.

He has never lost a spelling bee—his record now stands at 6-0— and because fifth-grade is the first time he could advance to the borough and city rounds, he was able to beat out students from around the five boroughs to represent the region after spelling “metachrosis” on March 20.

Anil is studying an average of two to three hours a day for the national contest.

Using the list of words that Scripps provided for the tournament, he has divided them into different categories, such as similar origins and definitions, to help remember. He also writes down words numerous times so they will stick in his memory. But he admits he doesn’t know every word and may have to guess.

“Most of it in the spelling bee is guess work,” Anil said. “The hardest part is learning how to guess.”

Catch the preliminary rounds of the bee on Wednesday, May 28 on ESPN.




Spelling champ Arvind Mahankali talks win, first taste of knaidel

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Rosa Kim

Victory is as savory as a k-n-a-i-d-e-l.

Teen whiz Arvind Mahankali tried his first Matzo ball after correctly spelling the above synonym for the dish to win this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“It was actually very good,” said the 13-year-old from Bayside. “It tasted excellent.”

Arvind, who swallowed the whole bowl, has been eating up national stardom since his live televised feat on May 30.

“There have been some people on the streets in New York City who actually recognized me,” he said. “They say congratulations. It feels weird. It’ll take some time getting used to.”

This was the M.S. 74 eighth grader’s fourth and final try at the prestigious contest. He placed third at the last two Bees.

“I’m glad that I at least was able to be consistent the past few times,” Arvind said. “All I wanted this time was to get to the finals.”

He exceeded that goal, beating 281 contestants and winning more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.

Arvind has been on an endless media tour since he took home first place.

“There have been a lot of interviews,” he said the night before being honored back to back by his school and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s actually been somewhat tiring. I haven’t had the opportunity to just rest.”

Not that he is used to resting.

Arvind started prepping for this year’s spelling bee almost immediately after being booted from the competition last year, when the German-based word “schwannoma,” meaning a type of cancer, eliminated him.

He would come home from school, finish his homework and read the dictionary as long as four hours a night until lights out, according to his mother.

“I’m very proud of him,” Bhavani Mahankali said. “He was so composed. He worked so hard.”

Studying certainly paid off. The smooth speller had come across his final word “knaidel” before.

“All I thought was that I knew this word and that I had to spell it right,” he said.

The aspiring physicist will enter Stuyvesant High School next year.

His father, Srinivas Mahankali, said the victory was “like a dream come true” for the family.

“It’s totally unlike anything,” he said of the national spotlight on his humble son. “The experience so far is unbelievable. It’s a blessing for us. We’re enjoying the moment right now.”

As for studying the dictionary, Arvind is more or less ready to put away his lexicon.

“I will sort of miss it,” he said, “but I will have some more free time to study physics and math and play some more tennis.”



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.”

Queens whiz Arvind Mahankali places third at Scripps National Spelling Bee for 2nd straight year

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Arvind Mahankali

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

For the second straight year, Mahankali placed third at the Scripps National Spelling Bee after misspelling the word s-c-h-v-o-n-o-m-a and hearing the dreaded ding of elimination. Mahankali came in ninth in 2010.

For his spellbinding run, Mahankali won $7,500.

The 12-year-old wordsmith advanced to the national championships after winning the Daily News New York Spelling Bee for the third straight year.

The seventh grader still has a chance to take home Scripps’ top prize; he still has one year of eligibility.

Snigdha Nandipati, 14 of San Diego, correctly spelled “guetapens” to win the competition and take home $37,500 in prizes.

Besides spelling, Mahankali also play tennis and basketball and performs drama and classical Indian music. An avid reader, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is his favorite book.

The ‘spell’ of success: Queens kid competes in city-wide spelling bee

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


Mitchell Leung has the borough spellbound. The fifth-grade student from P.S. 499 and North Flushing native recently competed in the city-wide spelling bee, after taking home top honors at the Queens Bee.

Mitchell’s favorite subject in school has always been reading, estimating that he owns over several hundred books. He tends to favor science fiction literature, devouring The Hunger Games series almost instantly.

His favorite author is Rick Riordan, creator of series such as Percy Jackson and the Kane Chronicles.

“Years of reading have helped him in spelling,” said Mitchell’s mother, Essa Leung. “You don’t realize that you’re studying when you’re reading the words.”

As preparation for the competition, Essa, a producer on an MSNBC show, quizzed him on words that could possibly be asked during the contest. They also rented movies about spelling bees from the local library, such as “Spellbound,” a documentary about kids vying for a top spot at a spelling bee, and “Akeelah and the Bee,” a fictional story about a young Los Angeles girl’s bee victory.

The Queens bee was held on January 17, the same day as Mitchell’s birthday.

“It wasn’t the way you’d think a kid would want to spend his birthday,” said Essa. “It was nerve wracking and the weather was awful. The bright shining thing at the end of it was that he won.”

The top 12 winners from the Queens bee got to compete in the city-wide bee.

Mitchell’s school bused several students to the city-wide competition on March 20 at Hunter College High School to cheer on their classmate. As the spelling bee is generally a silent event, friends made signs, covered with words of encouragement, to lift his spirits.

“I was really nervous at the bee,” said Mitchell. “I didn’t want to disappoint my family and the audience. I’m not good on stage. When my classmates came that made me nervous; they all came and made signs. I didn’t want to disappoint them too.”

For Mitchell’s first word, he spelled “origami.”

For his second, he attempted to spell “nadir,” but was thrown by its pronunciation.

Regardless of the outcome, Essa was positive of the influence the experience had on her son.

“[The city-wide spelling bee] was a nice experience to see it happen and meet all the people that were involved in it,” said Essa.

When the 11-year-old gets a moment away from the spelling spotlight, he plays fantasy video games such as Pokémon, paints with water colors and oil paints and plays the violin. He also has a brown belt in Taekwando. He will be able to get his red and black belt, one level below black belt, in less than a month.

Essa admits, however, that his favorite activity is curling up with a good book.