With a trophy and $40,000, Fresno girl named America’s best speller now ready to relax

Spelling champ explains how she she did it

To Ananya Vinay spelling is a sport.
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To Ananya Vinay spelling is a sport.

The big trophy that Ananya Vinay, 12, held as colorful lights flashed and people around her cheered was heavy, she said. It was a moment when speller No. 264 became No. 1 in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“I was holding what I wanted,” Ananya said. “It is hard to believe it’s real.”

On Thursday night, Ananya, of Fresno, became America’s top speller in the famous national contest – and the first from Fresno to do it. By Friday morning, she was accepting invitations to appear on major networks at home and abroad for the world to hear how she became the the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. It was a whirlwind of celebratory activities.

Anupama Poliyedath, Ananya’s mom, had no doubts she could pull it off. “We’re all happy for her,” she said Friday in a phone interview from suburban Washington, D.C., where the event was held. “We are all glad that it came through.”

Local spelling champ Ananya Vinay teaches us a word she spelled right in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The final rounds are tonight.

Before the competition started on Thursday, ESPN aired short biographies and goals of the finalists. Among Ananya’s goals was to tour the Google campus. On Friday morning, a Google technical writer reached out to The Bee and said the company wanted to invite Ananya to its Mountain View offices.

It’s cool to know that I represent my town.

Ananya Vinay, Fresno student who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Fresno spokesman Mark Standriff said the city is “certainly discussing” ways to recognize Ananya. “It’s more great news for the Fresno area,” he said.

Last year, Ananya got as far as the third round. This year, she qualified for the finals after correctly spelling “equipluve.” Her mom said she just wanted to see how far she could go. That calm attitude may have helped her win.

“She was the underdog,” Poliyedath said. “That was probably in her favor. It helped her stay calm.”

Ananya said she was not as nervous as she was careful in how she analyzed the words and their origins. “I don’t memorize (the words), I just analyze the word,” she said Friday in a phone interview.

She has been the California state champion the past two years, and she won again this year. She qualified for the national event out of the Fresno County Spell-Off, which is sponsored by the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools in partnership with The Fresno Bee. Other sponsors include Fresno State, Chevron, Granville Homes, EECU Credit Union, the Shops at River Park and the ERC grant-writing firm.

Paul Loeffler, a Los Banos native who now does sports broadcasting in Fresno and is the voice of the Fresno State athletics, was an announcer for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. He said Friday that the central San Joaquin Valley should be “extremely proud” to see a Fresno girl on the stage.

Winning only keeps my love of words going.

Ananya Vinay

Ananya said Friday that she doesn’t plan to compete as often as she has been after winning the national championship. She wants to “watch and cheer people on” for now, she said.

That will go along with helping out with spelling teams that are just starting out in Clovis, Ananya said. She takes part in community service often, helping out at the Community Food Bank and helping to raise over $1,000 in a “Game Day” for the Wounded Warriors Project.

Now that she will return to Fresno, Ananya said she will need to find a space in her study room to set the trophy with her name engraved on it. She has three state spelling bee trophies along with trophies and medals from other competitions.

As a national champion, Ananya said she’s still the same person. Winning only “keeps my love of words going,” she said.

Poliyedath said Ananya doesn’t want to miss the final week of school, so the family hopes to return Fresno by Thursday night so Ananya can attend the last day of class. In the afternoon, they will head to Hollywood for taping of the “Jimmy Kimmel Show.”

Clovis Unified School District spokeswoman Kelly Avants said Fugman Elementary school is planning a return celebration for Ananya. Avants said the Clovis Unified school board also plans to recognize the sixth-grade student at a board meeting soon.

But for now, Ananya waits for the day when she can just “relax, and read a book.” She said she plans to split the more than $40,000 prize with her brother. The rest, she said, will go to a college account. She doesn’t yet know what she wants to study.

Poliyedath said she’s proud her daughter can represent Fresno. “We love our city,” she said. Ananya feels the same way.

“It’s cool to know that I represent my town,” she said. “I’m happy I can make Fresno proud.”

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez

Spelling whiz

A look at some of the words successfully tackled by Fresno sixth-grader Ananya Vinay en route to winning the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in suburban Washington, D.C.

Verdaccio: mixture of black, white, and yellow pigments resulting in a soft greenish brown

Acharnement: French word meaning ferocity

Apagoge: indirect argument that proves something by showing the impossibility of the contrary

Phthirophagous: an adjective that means lice-eating

Arribada: Spanish for a nesting of sea turtles

Shyana: Sanskrit for meditation on a single object

Nuraghe: a large stone structure of Sardinia

Dasein: Germanic philosophy word that means human existence

Cuivre: French word used as a direction in music

Gargouillade: catlike forward leap in ballet