By Tamara Best
Arvind Mahankali may not have won the Scripps National Spelling Bee title
but the 10-year-old has received recognition that most people never see in a lifetime— a day named in his honor.
The fifth grader, who made it into the semifinals of the Bee, said he was “really
surprised” and “excited” by the honor.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D – ForestHills), who welcomed Arvind and his
family home to the neighborhood on Sunday, declared June 6 “Arvind Mahankali Day” in Queens.
“Not only is he my pick to win next year’s spelling bee, but he’s an incredibly
nice kid,” said Rep. Weiner. “His family deserves a lot of credit for being
such wonderful ambassadors for Forest Hills and our City.”
The journey to become a spelling whiz began long before he could pronounce
the words he now spells so easily in competitions.
***From the living room to the stage***
At four years old Arvind used to sit in front of the family television mesmerized
by spelling bee competitions.
Arvind’s cousin, Sanjay Kottapalli, participated in the Bee in 2008 and 2009.
"When I was a little kid I watched Scripps and I got inspired. It's the
spelling olympics," he said with a smile.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee began in 1925 with nine contestants,gaining national notoriety when it began live broadcasting in 1946. This year, a record 273 students from all over the world participated after winning competitions at the classroom,grade, school and next levels determined by the local spelling bee sponsors.
Arvind was the only speller from within the New York City area to make
it to the semifinals. Studying the Merriam-Webster dictionary four hours every day, he uses a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to track words he has difficulty spelling.
"And even when I'm not studying,sometimes my parents quiz me on words I don't know."
Srinivas Mahankali, Arvind’s father,said they also occasionally hold informal
family spelling bees at home.
"I won once," the proud father said with a laugh.
The 5th grader also receives support from students and teachers at Forest Hills Montessori School, saying that his classmates quiz him during the first part of recess.
"The night before the race I usually study for an extra hour. I always get
And after each successful round, he celebrates.
“I got new video games,” claiming that Pokémon is his favorite. “Occasionally,
I take a day off.”
A dream, turned reality
For Arvind, the best part of his participation in Scripps was not the actual competition but making new friends.
Still he said the trip was “mostly business” and before speaking a letter into the microphone he had a set routine.
“I just focus on the word and think I should ask all the questions and fit it together like a puzzle.”
He did just that and reached the semifinals by spelling manciple (officer of a monastery or college), pergelisol (permafrost), effleurage (a delicate stroking motion in a massage) and metarteriole (a short vessel that links arterioles and capillaries)correctly.
"When he got the word “metarteriole”right I was so proud, I didn't remember much after that,” his father explained.
And as for the word he missed, Arvind now spells it without hesitation.
"P-R-E-S-A. Presa," he said, which is defined as a cannon or round used in music.
During the competition, he spelled it “P-R-A-S-A” and was the last contestant eliminated before the finals, which were televised live on ABC.
Arvind’s elimination was deemed controversial by some because other contestants were
allowed to advance, despite not having to spell a third word prior to moving on as a finalist.
“I was a little disappointed but now I just think I should study a little better,” he said of being eliminated.
In addition to Rep. Weiner’s proclamation,his school also threw a surprise party to celebrate his accomplishment.
Yet, rather than bask in his achievement,Arvind said he resumes training this week.
When asked if he plans on entering next year he replied without hesitation.
"Of course. I want to win."
However, Arvind said if he wins next year, he would move onto other challenges. When
asked what those may be, he said, “Like superhero training."
As for what his superhero power would be, Arvind says, "I would control gravity."