Nicole Patrao brimmed with confidence through all 12 rounds of the Olathe Public Schools Spelling Bee on Feb. 8 at Frontier Trail Middle School.
Patrao, a Chisholm Trail Middle School eighth-grader, was a veteran of the district bee from the year before and put that experience to work.
After tying for sixth last year as a seventh-grader, nothing seemed to faze Patrao as she buzzed through words like trepak, erudite, ergonomic, and ubiquitous while the field winnowed down from 44 spellers at the start.
“Last year gave me a taste of what district is really like,” Patrao said. “This year, I was really shooting for that first place.”
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She got there after Walnut Grove fifth-grader and runner-up Angelo Barone misspelled “cutaneous” in the 12th round. Patrao swooped in with the correct answer and won the bee by correctly spelling “cytoplasm.”
“I am beyond excited,” Patrao said. “I knew (cytoplasm) immediately — seventh-grade science, all those things coming back.”
Patrao said “chassis” tripped her up last year, because she didn’t realize it was French and didn’t ask for alternate pronunciations. That’s an example of the lessons gleaned from experience that paid off last week.
“The key is always to ask for as much information as you can, even if you know the word,” Patrao said.
Now, the real work begins.
With her victory, Patrao qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee this May in Washington, D.C. She plans to study even more — “a lot of dictionary diving,” Patrao said — during the next three months in hopes of sticking around at the national level, too.
“I think I’m going to be very nervous, because one component of nationals that really throws you off the rails is the vocabulary component,” Patrao said. “That’s going to be something I definitely need to work on.”
She won’t have to look far for advice on how to succeed at the National Spelling Bee.
Vanya Shivashankar, the 2015 national co-winner and an Olathe North junior, was one of the four judges for this year’s Olathe Spelling Bee.
“I was so impressed by Nicole,” Shivashankar said. “She was so poised on stage. She was asking all the questions and really looked like she knew what she was doing. I’d love to (give her some pointers), because the National Spelling Bee is such an amazing experience.”
Patrao very well may take up Shivashankar on that offer.
“Our parents are friends, so we’ll see,” Patrao said. “But probably.”
Patrao’s parents, Prya and Prem, were at the bee to cheer two children in the competition. Her younger brother Neil, a Madison Place Elementary third-grader, also competed and made it to the fourth round.
Barone had plenty of reason to puff out his chest, too.
“Last year, I got out in the second round, so I didn’t really expect much,” he said.
This year, as the rounds went on he kept nailing his words — including parfait, spherical, chimichanga, and blitzkrieg — until he was the only competitor left standing alongside Patrao.
“I was awestruck,” Barone said of his performance. “I was so surprised, but it was so incredible.”
He said he’ll take some confidence into future bees — and probably won’t soon forget how to spell “cutaneous.”
Perhaps one day he’ll follow in the shoes of Patrao and Shivashankar, who is part of the undisputed First Family of Olathe Spelling.
Her older sister, Kavya, won the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee and went on neuroscience and pre-med at Columbia University.
Combined the Shivashankar sisters made nine appearances — five for Vanya (2010, 2012-15) and four for Kavya (2006-09) — at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“It was really fun to be on the other side of the bee and watch the kids compete,” said Vanya, who also won the debut season of Lifetime’s “Child Genius” (and the $100,000 college scholarship that went with it). “I love giving back and love the spelling bee every year.”