What It’s Like to Be a Legacy in the Scripps Spelling Bee

PHOTO: Vanya Shivashankar, 11, of Olathe, Kansas, smiles after spelling the word "shillibeer" correctly during the final round of the National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Maryland, May 30, 2013.
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For some contestants, spelling is all in the family.

Two of the kids competing in tonight’s Scripps National Spelling Bee finals are following in the footsteps of older siblings who won the competition in an earlier year. It sounds like a lot of pressure, but it’s definitely not stressing out 12-year-old Vanya Shivashankar, whose older sister won the bee in 2009.

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“She doesn’t think about being a legacy," Vanya's father, Mirle Shivashankar, from Olathe, Kansas, told ABC News. "She’s just into it.

“In my opinion," he added, "If kids like what they’re doing, they succeed. And she likes it. They’re both passionate about it.”

Vanya’s bubbly personality is entirely different from her 18-year-old sister, Kavya, who just finished her freshman year at Columbia University, where she’s studying neuroscience and pre-med, her father said.

PHOTO: Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, receives a hug from her parents Mirle and Sandy after she won the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition May 28, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
PHOTO: Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, receives a hug from her parents Mirle and Sandy after she won the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition May 28, 2009 in Washington, DC.

“My younger one is very outgoing. She likes the camera, just enjoys being on stage,” he said. “My older one was very focused, hard-working.”

Vanya’s choice to compete was all her own, her dad added. The family is just there for support -- and practice.

“It’s comparable to any other sport,” Shivashankar said. "If you want to be better, you have to work hard. But for them to work hard, that drive has to come from them."

Vanya isn’t the only legacy in tonight’s competition.

Spelling skill also runs in 14-year-old Ashwin Veeramani’s blood. His older sister, Anamika, won the competition in 2010. Ashwin tied for 33rd place last year.

Family ties are common in the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s history.

In this competition alone, 22 spellers have relatives who have participated in the bee before. And sometimes, it’s a long line of brainiacs.

The grandmother of 11-year-old Matthew Prus from Georgia competed in the early 1960s.

The Shivashankars even joked they hope their knack for spelling rubs off on the entire family -- even the dog.

"We have a son. We're trying to teach him spelling but it's hard," Shivashankar said, "because he's a four-legged Labrador puppy!"

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