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So C-L-O-S-E: West Fargo middle schooler finishes second at national spelling bee

West Fargo's Shantanu Srivatsa, 13, competes in the finals at the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Friday in Washington. He placed second in the bee after misspelling the word "ochidore."

In his third trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, West Fargo middle-schooler Shantanu Srivatsa wasted little time firing off the spelling of his first word in the finals.

"I-N-F-U-N-D-I-B-U-L-I-F-O-R-M," Shantanu spelled less than 30 seconds after the judge read the word.

The 13-year-old tied for second place with two other spellers Friday, his highest-ever ranking in the Super Bowl of spelling.

Shantanu flubbed "ochidore" in the eighth round, allowing Anamika Veeramani of Ohio to become the spelling bee champion.

Shantanu's dad, Sanjay Srivatsa, a cardiologist at Innovis Health in Fargo, said watching his son during competition was more nerve-wracking than it was waiting for his birth.

"I've taken a lot of exams and tests in my time, but this one gives me more angst than any of them," he said.

And the words given to spellers are largely "the luck of the draw," Sanjay said by phone Friday.

"If you get dished a word that you happen to have read or know, then obviously it's a lot easier," he said. "The hard part is when you get one that you've never seen in your life."

Shantanu's love of spelling stemmed first from reading.

"He pretty much reads every word he can get his hands on, and then he studies roots of words and classifies them," his dad said.

Shantanu studied with help from a coach in Virginia, but preparation for competition was largely an individual endeavor, his dad said.

Because of the intricacies of phonetics in the English language, pronunciation is key to a speller's success, and it's something that takes a lot of practice, Sanjay said.

"Many times, he'll just take the page from me because it's easier for him to do it himself than train me how to pronounce them," Sanjay said.

Shantanu isn't the only whiz kid in the family. His younger brother, Arjun, just finished fifth grade at South Elementary, but he was enrolled in middle school pre-algebra classes last year and competed in the state geography bee.

Arjun, his dad and family friends were in Washington, D.C., to cheer on Shantanu.

Shantanu's mom, Preeti Srivatsa, was the only member of the family who didn't make it to the competition in Washington. Preeti stayed behind for work in Fargo, where she is also a physician at Innovis Health.

"She doesn't handle stress very well when it comes to her son," her husband said. "She prefers to close her eyes and ears until the outcome is known, but she's ecstatic."

Competition for the 273 spellers started Wednesday with a written exam. Thursday's two oral rounds narrowed the field to 48 semifinalists.

The semifinal round began Friday morning, further thinning the competition to 10 spellers.

Sanjay said he hoped Shantanu would make it to the finals, but he tries not to expect anything.

"But when it does happen, we thank God, and we pat him on the back for coming this far," he said.

The second-place winner gets a $12,500 cash prize.

Sanjay also promised his son a trip to Greece if he won the competition. But "whatever he (did) in the final is just icing on the cake, and we're very proud of him," he said.