Ananya Vinay is used to studying – and succeeding. But this is different.
The 11-year-old sat in her north Fresno home last week, dwarfed by a large computer screen that voiced words like “zygodactylous” and “blancmange” as she dragged the mouse to select their meaning. (The first describing animals with pairs of front and back claws; the latter, a gelatinous dessert.)
Atop the computer desk, there are more than a dozen gold and silver trophies – all Ananya’s.
“She has more in my room,” said her 6-year-old brother, Achuth. “She has no place to put any more.”
Ananya, a fifth-grader at Clovis Unified’s Fugman Elementary School, is headed to the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., where preliminary rounds start on Tuesday. Last month, she won the California State Elementary Spelling Bee for the second year in a row, beating out more than 50 of the state’s top spellers.
285Competitors in the National Spelling Bee
This week, she will go up against 284 competitors from across the country. The competition will be broadcast on ESPN channels, which Ananya and her family usually watch on TV from home every year.
“I mean, it’s going to be a new experience. But I’m just going to try my best and see how far I get,” she said. “I only get a little nervous.”
Ananya is independent – her parents haven’t had to remind her to study up for the big day. Every day after school, she alternates between the national bee’s website and Merriam-Webster.com. Unlike her preparation for past spelling bees, this time around, she is focused more on the meaning of words instead of just how they are spelled.
“At nationals, there’s a focus on meanings … The meanings can help you connect the words, and some words you have to memorize because they are so strange,” Ananya said.
For example: “vorlage,” a method used in skiing that actually is pronounced “for-log-uh.”
“That spelling is strange,” she says. “The information can help you figure out a word. It just helps you think it through.”
I’m just going to try my best and see how far I get.
Her favorite word so far, though, is Philomela. “It’s a princess who turns into a nightingale,” Ananya beams. “It’s from Greek mythology.”
Only about 10 percent of the contestants at the national competition are Ananya’s age. About 44 percent are in the 8th grade, and about 30 percent are in the seventh grade. In addition to Ananya, 16 students from California will be competing. The Fresno Bee is Ananya’s official sponsor, helping send her to the national competition.
“We’ll get to meet a lot of the super-spellers. We just tell her, truly, don’t worry about what happens,” said Anupama Poliyedath, Ananya’s mother. “It’s her first time. So we say, just do your best and think it through. Whatever happens, it’s OK.”
Ananya is confident. “Spelling is easy for me,” she said. “Other subjects are pretty easy, too. But not this easy.”
Preliminaries begin at 8 a.m. Eastern time on ESPN3; finals begin 10 a.m. Eastern time Thursday on ESPN2 and are continued at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
Bulldog at the Bee
Paul Loeffler, the voice of the Fresno State athletics, will commentate on the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the 11th consecutive year. In 1990 he represented the Merced Sun-Star in the Scripps National Spelling Bee