Forest Hills boy spells his way to fame in spelling bee

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U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) dropped by the house of a Forest Hills boy who made it all the way to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee to honor the 10-year-old for his accomplishment.

Arvind Mahankali, a fifth-grader at the Forest Hills Montessori School, was eliminated just before the nationally televised finals of the competition in what Weiner called a controversial decision.

The congressman said ABC, which aired the contest, decided to start its broadcast in the middle of the round Arvind was eliminated from, which he said gave the impression that the children on television who missed their word advanced farther into the tournament than the boy.

Arvind, who was only one of 48 children to make it to the national semifinals, was eliminated on the word “presa,” a noun of Italian origin that is a musical sign. He spelled it p-r-a-s-a.

“It’s tough, but short,” Arvind said Sunday outside his home on Queens Boulevard, where Weiner gave him a proclamation declaring Sunday in his district “Arvind Day.” “I think I studied it once before, but I didn’t remember it.”

Weiner said that while Arvind did not make it to the televised finals, he told the boy, “You’re always going to be prime time in our hearts.”

“You certainly do make New York City proud,” the congressman said, noting that while the city “has its foibles — f-o-i-b-l-e-s — we also should always pay attention to these great accomplish­ments.”

Weiner called Arvind “a pretty cool customer” who was able to withstand the pressure.

“I stand in front of the camera, but no one’s quizzing me, asking me to spell words I never heard of before,” Weiner said.

Arvind, who won his school’s spelling bee before breezing through a regional competition, said he studied four hours a day for the national contest.

“Mostly I just read the dictionary, as many words that I could,” he said.

The 10-year-old said he was speechless after receiving the honor from Weiner.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m really honored. More than honored,” he said.

Arvind said he plans to make it back to the national competition next year and has big ambitions for his future.

“I want to be a lawyer, then run for Congress and then Senate and then president,” he said.

But Arvind joked he would put his plan on hold if Weiner is still representing his district.

“I’ll wait till he retires,” he said. “I’ll challenge someone else.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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