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Jhanvi Ravishankar competes against more than 100 to win spelling bee at Hofstra

Jenna Miller, from Wantagh Middle School, runs to

Jenna Miller, from Wantagh Middle School, runs to the mic to spell a word during the "final spell down" as students from Long Island participate in the third Hofstra Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee on Feb. 9, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Tenacity might as well have been the winning word at the third annual Hofstra Long Island Regional Spelling Bee on Sunday, in which the final two contestants battled for nearly 15 minutes following an array of twists in the competition.

Ultimately, Jhanvi Ravishankar, 12, of Nesconset won by correctly spelling "rorqual," beating runner-up Jenna Miller, 12, of Wantagh.

Jhanvi, an eighth-grader at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconset, will represent Long Island in May at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington.

"I'm really excited for winning. I'm nervous about what's coming up ahead," said Jhanvi, standing on the stage at Hofstra University's John Cranford Adams Playhouse, where the event was held. "The competition [in D.C.] is probably going to be really fierce."

The regional bee included 107 students from fourth to eighth grade -- 40 of whom advanced to the final "spell down" that lasted more than two hours.

The last five spellers returned to the stage at one point because all five misspelled a word in the same round. Lisa Dresner, head judge for the spelling bee and Hofstra's assistant professor of writing studies and composition, said it was not typical to have so many final spelling rounds.

"We had particularly challenging words for the last several final rounds, and so we had to invoke this little-known rule that says that if you succeed in the final round and are the only one left, you still have to spell another word correctly," Dresner said.

New this year was a multiple-choice vocabulary test, which students completed during the written component of the competition, Dresner said.

"The basic idea is to encourage students to understand language and build their vocabulary that are skills that will last a lifetime, as opposed to simply memorizing spelling," she said.

Jhanvisaid earlier words "were kind of easy, but then as we got down to less and less people, they had words that I had no clue about."

To prepare, Jhanvi said she studied word lists and Spell It -- a Merriam Webster resource comprising words from different languages -- daily, for at least 30 minutes. Her strategy in the competition was to ask for the origin of each word she received.

"That kind of helps with the word," she said. "Different origins have different ways of spelling words, like German is 'sch.' "

Jhanvi won a dictionary, $100 savings bond, subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica and all-expense-paid trip to the national bee with an adult.

Parents Ravishankar Moorthy, 48, and Sujatha Ravishankar, 40, said they were very proud of Jhanvi, who competed regionally for the third time.

Moorthy said several relatives and friends would join the family in Washington, adding, "They're all watching. They're all listening to this."

Jenna, a first-time regional bee speller and a sixth-grade student at Wantagh Middle School, said the experience was exciting. "This was such a close battle," she said. "That last word that I got out on . . . never heard it before." The word was velouté, a type of sauce or soup.

Jenna said she studied about 14 hours per week and pretended to write words on the back of the number placard draped across her neck at the bee to help visualize the words. "I cannot believe I made it this far."

Parents Ellen and Michael Miller, 47 and 45, respectively, said they were both "thrilled beyond words" with Jenna's performance. Jenna's advice for students who may want to compete: "Three words: study, study, study.WINNER: Jhanvi Ravishankar, 12


SPELLED CORRECTLY: kakistocracy -- Government by the worst or least-qualified individuals.


SPELLED CORRECTLY: rorqual -- Any of a family (balaenopteridae) of large baleen whales (as a blue whale or humpback whale) having the skin of the throat marked with deep longitudinal furrows.


RUNNER-UP: Jenna Miller, 12


MISSPELLED: sicklocyte -- A sickle cell.

velouté -- A soup or sauce made of chicken, veal, or fish stock and cream and thickened with butter and flour.

SOURCE: Merriam-Webster Online dictionary


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