Shiv Mehrotra-Varma, the 11-year-old winner of this year's Fresno County Scripps Spelling Bee, had a good coach in his next-door neighbor: Ananya Vinay, the 2017 champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Ananya, 13, was cheering on Shiv's win at Fresno State on Wednesday afternoon.
Shiv, a fifth grader at Fugman Elementary School, will advance to the national Scripps competition May 27 in Maryland, along with earning a spot to compete in the separate California State Spelling Bee May 12 in Stockton.
Spelling bee rules don't allow Ananya to compete in another national Scripps competition because she already won it, but she will also advance to the state competition as the winner of Wednesday's junior high contest.
Ananya said she's good with not returning to the national competition because "another person deserves a chance."
Her best spelling bee advice: "Try your best, stay calm, spelling isn't about memorization, it's about learning the stories, and rules and the routes to understand the word."
Shiv took that to heart. He said Ananya's advice was a big part of helping him win.
"I was really lucky," he said. "Without her, I probably couldn't have made it this far."
Shiv won by correctly spelling "einkorn" — a type of corn grown in southeastern Turkey — after fifth grader Kevin Narang of Sanger Academy Charter School misspelled "madeleine," a small rich cake baked in a tin that's shaped like a shell.
Shiv said he previously read "einkorn" on a Scripps study guide, but added that he hadn't paid much attention to it since it wasn't a very complicated word. He got excited when he was asked to spell it during the competition because he knew he could spell it right.
"I'm really happy," he said after his win, all smiles and giggles, "and I'm just going to try my best at Scripps, hopefully. But, yeah, this was unexpected."
This is Shiv's first county win, and the first time he'll compete at the state and national competition level. The two competitions aren't connected.
Shiv's father, Sumit Varma, said his son loves to read and that he's dedicated, outgoing and friendly. Sumit works as a business analyst in the information technology department for Community Medical Centers, and Shiv's mother, Nidhi Mehrotra-Varma, is a pediatrician.
Ananya won the junior high competition by correctly spelling "libretto" — the text of an opera or long vocal work. Heading into the competition, she said she felt "pretty prepared and tried her best."
Kevin, the runner-up, will also advance to the state competition, as will Dalia Sheikh, a seventh grader at Kastner Intermediate School, who placed third overall.
There were 83 children who competed in the all-day competition. The final round, which featured four children — top spellers from the elementary and junior high contests — began late Wednesday afternoon. Ananya did not compete in the final round because it was only to select a speller to advance to the national competition.
The third-place finisher in the junior high contest, eighth grader Ruby Grace Lladone of St. Helen's Catholic School, also competed in the final round.
Sponsors of the county competition were The Fresno Bee, the Office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, Foundation @ FCOE, Fresno State, Chevron, Educational Employees Credit Union and Educational Resource Consultants.