The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


May 31, 2013

'German curse' no more for NYC Spelling Bee champ


"He's matured a lot," said his father, Srinivas Mahankali.

Arvind, looking a bit overwhelmed, explained it this way: "I actually do not have a proper recollection of what I did these past few hours."

Arvind admires Albert Einstein and hopes to become a physicist. He's the first boy to win the bee since 2008, and the first champion from the Big Apple since Rebecca Sealfon in 1997. He's also the bee's sixth consecutive Indian-American winner and the 11th in the past 15 years, a run that began when Nupur Lala captured the title in 1999 and was later featured in the documentary "Spellbound."

Arvind's father is an IT consultant and his mother is a doctor. The family is originally from Hyderabad in southern India, where relatives were watching live on television as the event was broadcast from a suburban Washington hotel. His father cited a premium on education and language as reasons for the spate of Indian-American winners.

"At home, my dad used to chant Telegu poems from forward to backward and backward to forward, that kind of thing," Srinivas Mahankali said. "So language affinity, we value language a lot. And I love language, I love English."

The last three finalists were Indian-American, including 13-year-old Pranav Sivakumar from Tower Lakes, Ill., who was tripped up by "cyanophycean" and finished second. Sriram Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., placed third.

The week began with 281 spellers and was whittled down to 42 for the semifinals Thursday afternoon and 11 for the prime-time finals, with spellers advancing based on a formula that combined their scores from computerized spelling and vocabulary tests with their performance in onstage rounds.

The multiple-choice vocabulary tests were new. Some of the spellers liked the change, some didn't, and many were in-between, praising the concept but wondering why it wasn't announced at the beginning of the school year instead of seven weeks before the national bee.

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