By Tom Momberg
Srinath Mahankali of Bayside Hills has won the top spot in his division at the New York Daily News Spelling Bee, outspelling about 70 of the best and brightest fifth through eight-graders in the city
He brought pride home to his family and to Middle School 74, where he attends sixth grade.
Mahankali, 11, will join Flushing’s Sai Vishudhi Chandrasekhar, 13, the spelling bee’s other first-place winner, at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. this May.
The MS 74 middle schooler did not succumb to his nerves, which he said put him at an advantage over his fellow spellers.
“When I was sitting on stage, I was just thinking about the words and not about the other competitors,” he said.
Mahankali said it’s all about “keeping your cool,” because hoping your opponent misses a letter doesn’t improve your own outcome.
“I just tried to stay relaxed … When I was on stage, I just asked everything I could about a word that would help me spell it. I like to pretend to write the word on my hand,” which Mahankali said helps him to visualize each character.
Ultimately beating out his citywide opponents with the word “basophilic,” Mahankali said winning felt good. He can’t wait until the national competition.
In case you didn’t know, basophilic is a technical term referring to the image of cells or tissue from a microscope.
Mahankali’s older brother, Arvind, put an end to his middle school career in 2013, when he was crowned national spelling bee champion after his fourth consecutive trip to D.C.
Srinath Mahankali is following in his brother’s footsteps, but said he is going to be competing all on his own, as his own person.
“I just think of myself as me, not as Arvind’s brother,” he said. “I do this in my own way, and I’m going to the national spelling bee for my first time, so I’m really excited.”
The competition isn’t over just yet for Mahankali, so over the next few months, practice will continue to make perfect.
The Daily News will fund Mahankali’s all-expense paid trip to the Scripps competition the last week of May.
The sixth-grade orthography prodigy said he finds it fun to not only learn new words, but to master them.
“My parents and brother quiz me sometimes to practice. It’s much better than reading the dictionary, because it’s impossible to memorize all 170,000 words in it.”
Mahankali said his father will often create lists of new words for him — words that are difficult, unusual and often interesting — because diction is half the fun in learning the word, which means actually being able to use it in conversation.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb