San Ramon Valley students were among the more than 200 competitors at the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week, with all three sponsored by a local Rotary Club advancing to the final round of the prestigious and longstanding competition.
Shradha Rachamreddy, 13, Dhruv Subramanian, 12, and Vikrant Chintanaboina, 14, competed with eight other finalists in the fourth and final round of the spelling bee near Washington D.C. on June 1, with Rachamreddy coming in third place and Subramanian and Chintanaboina tying for fifth overall in the 231-contestant tournament.
Rachamreddy made it to the 13th of 15 rounds of finals, ultimately being stumped by the word "orle", right after her two local peers were stumped in the 12th round. Subramanian's final word was "crenel" and Chintanaboina's final word was "pataca".
All three students were sponsored by Rotary Club of the San Ramon Valley, and were winners of the Scripps Regional Bay Area that was hosted by local rotarians for the first time this March.
With his two local peers being enrolled in private independent study programs based in San Jose, Subramanian, who just finished seventh grade at Windemere Middle School, was the lone competitor representing the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
Last week's trip across the country was Subramanian's first time competing in the national bee -- now in its 95th year -- following an interest in language going back as far as he can remember that drew him to competitive spelling starting in kindergarten.
"It was a disappointment, but at the same time I feel like I've also done really well for what my goal was originally," Subramanian said. "It's like a huge load has gone off my chest."
Coming in at fifth place in his first time at the national bee is the pinnacle of Subramanian's prolific spelling career so far, and he said he would be reflecting over the summer and coming school year on whether to seek a spot in the competition again.
"It feels like I did well, but at the same time I could have done better," Subramanian said. "I mean I will still attend other spelling bees that are happening, both virtual and in person bees that were happening this year, and based on how I do I'll choose how to continue Scripps."
While the nationally televised spelling bee is the most well-known aspect of the Scripps competition, Subramanian said that for him and other students, it had also been an opportunity to spend time with like-minded people in an environment dedicated to their shared interests.
"All the spellers, we have this bond," Subramanian said. "We're all like-minded people; we're all friendly with each other; we have a very strong bond between each other as spellers."
However, the competition is still the central feature that students prepare for -- oftentimes for most of their young lives such as in Subramanian's case -- with a "friendly rivalry" in the atmosphere.
"The contenders from our region, as you could see all three of us had gone to the finals, which means our region is already an explosive region in terms of this competition," Subramanian said.
Despite years of practice and preparation for the biggest event in competitive spelling, Subramanian noted that some rule changes this year had thrown him for a loop.
"Definitely the word I missed, if I had paid just a tiny bit more attention to the pronouncer's lips, different cues the pronouncer had when pronouncing," Subramanian said. "They did change a few rules this year about asking. They changed a lot of rules in asking the questions, which I feel really made this word in part a lot harder."
While Subramanian is reflecting on last week's competition and considering whether or not to compete again nationally in the future, his parents, Veena and Satheesh Subramanian, are celebrating the successes already under his belt as the family relaxes on a European vacation.
"For us as parents, I think we are very proud of what Dhruv was able to do at his first year at the nationals," Satheesh Subramanian said.