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His dad won the National Spelling Bee in 1985. Now, he’s competing for the 2018 title

Atman Balakrishnan has an obvious spelling bee role model to idolize: His dad Balu Natarajan, who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1985.Balakrishnan, 12, from outside Chicago, is one of the more than 500 competitors looking to bring home the trophy here at the National Harbor Convention Center, but unlike his competition, he has a father who knows what it takes to win.For Natarajan, 46, watching his son on the stage is more nerve-racking than when he competed himself.”Like anything else for a parent, it is much more emotional watching your kid when you don’t have any control over it,” he said. “I have a much deeper appreciation for my parents and their emotional state when I was competing.”Spelling on the national stage in 1985, Natarajan had the bright lights to face, but unlike today, ESPN wasn’t live streaming the competition and airing the final round in prime time on Thursday night.It is one of the biggest changes to the Bee that Natarajan has seen, but the advice for being on stage remains the same: Block everything else out and focus on the word. “I liked the feeling of being up there — being on stage and being on television,” Balakrishnan said. “But I didn’t really think about that. I just thought about me and (pronouncer) Dr. Bailly and the word.”His word: cantico, meaning “a ceremonial dance of the Algonquian Indians of the Atlantic seaboard,” according to Merriam Webster.


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