Out of 285 spellers lining up Wednesday for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, only one will be there for the fifth time.
That’s Olathe’s Vanya Shivashankar, 13, one of four top spellers from the Kansas City area in the competition.
Bee watchers consider Vanya, an eighth-grader at California Trail Middle School, a top contender. Her sister, Kavya, won the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Vanya tied for 13th place last year. This is her final opportunity to win the national title.
Bee Week, which kicked off with a multiple-choice spelling and vocabulary test Tuesday morning, will not only test spelling but also the stamina and patience of its young spellers.
Vanya’s father, Mirle Shivashankar, shared how he and his daughter study for the bee.
“The way we prepare is we understand the roots of the words. And we make our own lists,” Shivashankar said Tuesday. “… We do not memorize the letters. It’s not memorizations of letters unless it’s a unique word. We try to understand clues behind words, such as word derivatives. There’s no secret to it.”
Representing Jackson and Clay counties will be Sophia Hoffman, a sixth-grader at Highland Park Elementary School in Lee’s Summit.
“I’ve been preparing by learning roots and studying different words and categorizing them into their language of origins,” Sophia said.
Her sister, Jordan, competed in the bee three years ago. Jordan gave Sophia some advice.
“She has told me to do my best and since I’ve prepared so much, just be happy with whatever outcome,” Sophia said.
Cass County champ Joel Miles, a 12-year-old at Eagle Glen Intermediate School in Raymore, and Platte County’s Allyson Scribner, a sixth-grader at Plaza Middle School in Kansas City, North, also will compete for the title. Joel is back for his second year.
On Wednesday, the preliminary rounds will stream live starting at 7 a.m. Central time on ESPN3. On Thursday, the semifinals start at 9 a.m. Central time on ESPN2. The finals will air at 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN. All events are available to stream on WatchESPN.
Ramsen Shamon is a student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.