Paul Loeffler, a central San Joaquin Valley native and announcer of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, had a front-row seat to history when a 12-year-old Fresno girl won the country’s biggest spelling competition.
Loeffler was an announcer for the 90th competition’s two-day event held in Washington, D.C., where Ananya Vinay was the winner out of 291 spellers. She is the first student from Fresno County to win the prestigous national title.
Before the national spelling competition, about 11 million schoolchildren take part in regional competitions and represent all 50 U.S. states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe; also, the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.
“To be a kid from the Valley and advance ... it’s an incredible achievement,” said Loeffler, a Los Banos native who now does sports broadcasting in Fresno and is the voice of the Fresno State athletics.
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“Objectively speaking, what (Ananya) did was extraordinary.”
Loeffler said it was special knowing Ananya was from Fresno, saying “it was a little difficult” to not be excited.
But he wanted all the spellers to win because “it’s hard to see anyone lose.”
In May 2015, Loeffler told The Bee that it would be great if a regional Scripps spelling bee was held in Fresno County, after Ananya had clinched her first of three statewide spelling bees. He said then that it would be a good opportunity to send Ananya – or any winner – to the national competition. The Fresno Bee and county Superintendent of Schools office teamed up, joined by other partners.
Now in his 12th year as a word analyst for the competition, Loeffler called this year’s competition “one of the most amazing” spelling bee competitions he’d been part of.
“I saw extreme focus, remarkable poise, performance under pressure,” Loeffler said. “The best competitors in the world have that ability.”
Loeffler also competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1990, when he was sponsored by the Merced Sun-Star. He finished among the top 13.
His sister also competed in the competition from 1994-96. She now works in organizing the Scripps National Spelling Bee, he said.
Loeffler said Ananya’s big win inspires other Valley kids who have big dreams.
“Her’s just came true,” he said.