SAN ANGELO, Texas — Big things come in small packages, and 6-year-old whiz kid Akash Vukoti is a prime example.
Akash and his family moved to San Angelo from the East Coast in August, and less than 8 months later Akash became the youngest winner of the San Angelo Spelling Bee.
This wordsmith, a homeschooled first-grader, took the first-place trophy March 5, out-spelling 30 older competitors, ranging in age from 8-14.
Akash’s win may have seemed like a curve ball to some in the crowd, because the same two students have fought it out in the final rounds in the past two San Angelo bees.
“I studied very hard, and I won the bee with ‘circumspectly,’ a really easy word,” Akash said with a giggle Wednesday. “If I didn’t study well, I would be probably not going to win at all, because I wouldn’t even know a single word.”
Akash is no stranger to spelling bees, with 12 trophies siting in his home. He has been competing since 2012, when he was 2. The biggest trophy of the bunch is from his latest spelling championship, at almost the same height as Akash.
“Out of all, the most prestigious and the most loved one is from, you guys, the Standard-Times,” said Krishna Vukoti, Akash’s father and an assistant director at Shannon Medical Center Pharmacy. “That means a lot to us and not only for us, but for all the San Angelo kids.”
The spelling bee was sponsored by the Standard-Times and lasted more than 12 rounds inside the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts.
Vukoti said the family recognized Akash’s interest in the alphabet when he was a toddler.
An uncle was feeding Akash one evening when Akash was 1 ½ years old, Vukoti said. The uncle told Akash “this is a spoon” and began to spell out the word for him. Akash replicated the spelling. The uncle asked Akash for the spelling of spoon a week later, and Akash was able to correctly reproduce the spelling, Vukoti said.
“S-p-o-o-n, that was the first word he spelled,” Vukoti said. “That was the first time when we observed his interests in spelling, and since then we thought we would encourage him.”
The family began to provide Akash with more alphabet toys, then took him and his older sister, Amrita, 8, who attends Bonham Elementary School, to spelling bees, Vukoti said. He said the family would sometimes drive six hours or fly a few hours to get to the competitions, where “people mostly think he came along with his sister to participate in the spelling bee,” Vukoti said.
Akash will participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May thanks to his win in San Angelo. However, that won’t be the first time he gets to experience the national spotlight. Akash was seleced from several hundred applicants and went through four screening stages to become a guest on the new NBC prime-time show “Little Bit Shots.” The show is a children’s comedy, talent and variety series co-produced and created by Ellen DeGeneres and Steve Harvey, with Harvey serving at the host.
Akash went head-to-head with Harvey in a spelling contest on the show, which will premiere Sunday on NBC. He left Harvey stumped by correctly spelling the word “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” a term referring to a lung disease caused by silica dust.
Akash then appeared as a guest on the “Steve Harvey Show,” which aired Friday.
Akash received his first paycheck from NBC and donated some of his earnings to the Children’s Miracle Network in San Angelo and to Wikipedia, Vukoti said.
“We are very proud to say that,” Vukoti said. “Our goal is not to win the championship or to become rich. But the goal for my kids is to become a good citizen of the country and help themselves, help their family and the community and the country. So that’s what we are looking forward for Akash.”
Vukoti said he and his wife, Chandrakala, 33, often think about Akash’s achievement overshadowing his older sister. Vukoti said, however, that Amrita played a major role in shaping Akash.
“She always quizzes him. She always encourages him. She has a different talent than Akash,” he said. “I’m sure — me and my wife, we both are sure — that she also will be having a special day in her life soon.”
Akash will be one of the youngest contestants to compete at the national level when he participates in the Scripps bee in Washington. A 6-year-old from Virginia, Lori Anne Madison, also competed at the National Spelling Bee in 2012.
Nonetheless, Akash is eager for the competition.
“I’m waiting for next month because that’s the time when I’m getting ready to start working on this huge dictionary, the Webster, the biggest dictionary in the whole wide USA,” Akash said. “If I win or not win, it’s really based only on how much I studied well.”
Where to watch
See Akash Vukoti’s “Little Big Shots” appearance at 7 p.m. Sunday on NBC or at nbc.com/little-big-shots