Ananya Vinay is thorough.
Before every word the 11-year-old was asked to spell at the Fresno County Spell-Off on Tuesday, she slid down the microphone stand to fit her height and carefully asked the moderator several questions.
Definition? Can you use it in a sentence? Any alternate pronunciations? Part of speech? Language of origin? Am I saying this correctly?
Her meticulous methodology paid off. Ananya – the reigning California State Elementary Spelling Bee Champion – won the county competition on Tuesday, and will return to the state competition in April. But her win this time around is different: The county champ will also advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., in May.
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“I’m excited about meeting with all of the spellers and also about being on national television,” the Fugman Elementary fifth-grader said after her win, wearing a glittery pink Superwoman symbol on her T-shirt.
Nearly 80 elementary and middle school students from across Fresno County competed at Fresno State on Tuesday. Ananya won the final round by correctly spelling “babka” – the Polish sweet bread. She beat out runner-up Willem Kuenen, an eighth-grader at Clay Elementary School in Kingsburg.
The two students will represent the county at the elementary and middle school state competitions, alongside finalists Nikayla Franco, of Liberty Elementary in Kerman, and Allison Van Groningen of Conejo Middle School in Laton.
Ananya’s mother, Anupama Poliyedath, said her daughter studies words nonstop, but mostly credits her love of reading for her spelling successes.
“We’re happy and surprised – there’s always that element of chance, even when you study,” Poliyedath said. “The national competition is going to be a different ballgame. But whatever happens, it will be an experience.”
Ananya’s family had big plans to celebrate after her win on Tuesday: They were headed to a book fair.
The Bee co-sponsored the event, along with the Fresno County Office of Education, Foundation at Fresno County Office of Education, Fresno State, Chevron, Educational Employees Credit Union, Educational Resource Consultants and the River Park Shopping Center.
Sponsors pay for Ananya and one family member’s trip to the national competition.