About Us

Rob Simmelkjaer - Online Spelling Bee host!

rob-headshot-edit.pngRob Simmelkjaer is the founder and CEO of Persona Media, a Norwalk-based interview and conversation-focused social media startup. Prior to that, he spent most of his career working as a sports media executive in a number of positions with NBC Sports and ESPN.

From 2011 to 2019, he served as a senior vice president at NBC Sports in Stamford, a role in which he was responsible for managing the NBC Sports Ventures unit, a collection of NBC Sports properties including NBC Sports Radio and podcasts, Reebok Spartan Race, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, and the Red Bull Signature Series.

Rob holds a BA in Government from Dartmouth College. He also holds a JD from Harvard Law School.

Meet the pronouncers

hexco-bio-ananya-vinay-pronouncer-online-kaplan-spelling-bee2.jpgThe 2017 National Spelling Bee Champion, Ananya Vinay, is our Round One pronouncer!

One of the youngest Scripps National champions to date, and winner of the California state spelling bee championship four times in a row (2014-2018), Ananya brings a deep understanding of roots, language rules, etymology, and vocabulary that goes far beyond the spelling bee! A science enthusiast and avid debater, she earned placement in the National Science Bowl Broadcom Masters Top 300 for her science fair projects for two years in a row.

In 2018, Ananya joined SpellGenius by Mathus Academy to work as a spelling coach while attending high school. She also mentors a middle school science bowl team as well as the school spelling bee team. Ananya loves to write and read and watch movies.

hexco-bio-dave-riddle-pronouncer-online-kaplan-spelling-bee.jpgDavid Riddle is a retired attorney who resides in central California and coached his son to the National Spelling Bee in 2004. Dave himself won the 2005 title of National Senior Spelling Bee Champ and continued to participate in adult spelling bees around the country. He was the last audience member standing in a Broadway performance of the 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee (See his article recounting the hilarious bee at http://www.word-buff.com/25th-annual-putnam-county-spelling-bee.html).

Dave himself has been the pronouncer in over 50 adult and student bees.  In keeping his personal spelling skills sharp while offering time-tested suggestions, Dave also understands what he calls, "Gut Dread," meaning the nervousness that comes with participating in spelling bees. With this experience, Dave has filled a unique role in advising spellers, especially to ensure maximum comfort with spelling on stage. Dave brings years of experience, and we are proud to have him on board as a pronouncer!  Read the entertaining interview in Word Buff magazine:

valerie-browning-web3.jpgValerie Browning is one of Hexco's founders and is featured in the "Spelling the Dream" documentary. She placed 6th in the 1987 National Spelling Bee, is the author of Hexco's Spelling Rules Book and is well-known in spelling circles as "the" Valerie of Hexco's annual Valerie's Supplement book.

With an undergrad degree from SMU and an MBA from McCombs School of Business at UT Austin, Valerie served as a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep for over 15 years. Currently working in practice development and strategy in the medical field, she is a proud (and active) mother of two incredibly perceptive and intelligent children. She manages to juggle career and motherhood while also serving in an advisory capacity at Hexco. We are very excited to have Valerie as one of our pronouncers at the Kaplan and Hexco Online Spelling Bee!

michelle hortonMichelle Horton is our original coach who assisted in developing the Spelling Coaching Program with Linda Tarrant. Michelle has been writing and editing products for Hexco for the past several years and has been coaching students using our new system for over seven years. Prior to coaching Hexco spellers, Michelle coached all of her children using Hexco products, and they together spelled at the National Bee a total of seven years. Michelle’s youngest, Mary, ultimately tied for fifth place at the NSB in her final attempt and has since aged out of the competition. Michelle is an expert grammarian who holds a Bachelor's degree in Secondary Education with a specialization in Chemistry. As head coach, she has developed instructions for approaching the spelling of words in various language families beyond what is in Hexco's Spelling Rules Book and has added multiple lists for many language families and beyond. Currently, Michelle is expanding the Personal Spelling Coach Program to include new areas for mastery for coaching students as well as working with Linda Tarrant to convert our current program to include coaching eMentors for the PSC program. Her positive attitude helps build excellent rapport with students as she continues to receive stellar reviews from customers who have had the opportunity to benefit from her coaching, many of whom have made it to the higher rungs of the National Spelling Bee

The judges

linda tarrantLinda Tarrant is the President and founder of Hexco and the woman who facilitates successful operations behind the scenes! In addition to steering and inspiring a group of "fun, powerful women," Linda initiates new product development and continues to take her spelling products to the 'next level' by working side-by-side with her team on a daily basis. Prior to founding Hexco, and more than 35 years ago, Linda worked as a Systems Engineer for IBM working on large mainframe computers at a time when very few women worked in computer programming or coding. With a Bachelor of Arts from UT Austin, Linda has served as the State Director for the UIL Computer Applications contest for over 20 years and has faithfully supported both the North South Foundation and the South Asian Spelling Bee competitions since she became involved with spelling bees. Over her lifetime, Linda has continually sought out ways to 'raise the bar' as to how much students can learn and retain, and therefore prosper and grow. As a champion of learning and higher education, Linda also supports universities and arts foundations as well as institutes of military education.

All three of her daughters participated at the National Spelling Bee and it was Linda who helped cultivate their love of the language as well as their entrepreneurial spirit. Linda is the proud mother of the three "Spelling Sisters" who designed and inspired some of Hexco's early products and she is a more proud "Lindy" of three magical grandchildren--one is shown here!

beth maderBeth Mader is a writer, researcher, and editor for Hexco. She has a B.A. in English and is currently working on her MBA at Schreiner University. Beth has pronounced for several school spelling bees and continues to edit Hexco's spelling products; she also edits numerous UIL Computer Applications tests produced by Hexco. Aside from her passion for reading and writing, she loves horses and taking trail rides whenever she gets the chance.

keisha bedwellKeisha Bedwell is an in-house researcher, writer, and editor at Hexco, primarily specializing in social studies and writing-related contests, and the director of our National History Bee personal coaching program. Her history students have brought home multiple national championship titles over the years, and she has also helped our team run local spelling bees for half a decade. Keisha co-authored Hexco's History Essentials and wrote the original book of our History Snapshots series, and she has also written numerous practice tests and other study materials for students preparing to compete in the University Interscholastic League. She holds a B.A. in both Psychology and History from Schreiner University and brings a unique wealth of knowledge and insight from her years of experience coaching and tutoring students of all ages. When she's not writing or coaching, she enjoys traveling or spending time outdoors with her Australian Shepherd, Indie.

noel putnamNoel Putnam has been employed by Hexco for over 10 years and is the friendly voice fielding the bulk of telephone inquiries and managing Hexco’s product fulfillment. Noel’s professional background ranges from asset management to organizational management making her interpersonal skills and attention to detail unsurpassed. With a Bachelors of Arts in English from Schreiner University, Hexco utilizes Noel’s literary expertise in editing and product development. Noel is currently serving her second term as a Trustee on our local School Board and enjoys being involved in the local community. Noel is an avid reader and enjoys writing, but her main love is spending time with her daughter, Madelyn.

nancy barnardNancy Barnard has been employed by Hexco, Inc. for the past 12 years as bookkeeper and assistant to Linda Tarrant. She and her husband ran a small business for 30 years prior to that. She has participated annually in conducting 2 local spelling bees for Hexco and has edited many of Linda's word lists and products for Texas UIL. She writes Computer Application tests for Hexco and helps conduct the annual Texas UIL State Meet contest held at the University of Texas.

sriram hathwarSriram Hathwar is a proud upstate New Yorker and rising junior at Princeton University, studying operations research and computational biology. He started spelling in second grade, and won the Junior NSF Spelling Bee, Intermediate NSF Vocabulary Bee, Senior NSF Spelling Bee, and Metlife South Asian Spelling Bee before winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2014. He coached his brother to victory in 2016, and shortly after, wrote the book “Words from the Champs”, which is available on Amazon. As a student, he enjoys developing machine learning algorithms to parse speech and text, to analyze genomics datasets, and to develop epidemiological models. He also enjoys learning languages, from Sanskrit to Mandarin to Hebrew. When not in front a book or computer, Sriram can also be found rolling on the mats sparring in Brazilian jiu jitsu, running half-marathons to get some vitamin D, or juggling clubs and balls during the intermissions of student events.

sravanth mallaSravanth Malla, a Davidson Young Scholar, has been participating in various spelling competitions since the age of 4. He placed 6th at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2018, won the South Asian Spelling Bee in 2017, and placed 5th at the North-South Foundation Finals in 2016. He has also participated in various math, science, and vocabulary bees. While he is currently interning under Senator Charles E. Schumer, he continues to show his passion for Spelling Bees through publishing books. He has written multiple books on the essentials needed to succeed in the Spelling Bee, and has also been coaching spellers for the past two years. Beyond spelling, Sravanth enjoys playing tennis, skateboarding, and running.

snehaa ganesh kumarSnehaa Ganesh Kumar is the runner-up of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee. She’s also the 2016 NASCC Senior Category champion, and competed in the 2016 South Asian Spelling Bee National Finals. She worked as a coach with Hexco Academic for four years, coaching multiple spellers who have made it to the National Semifinals! She developed a curriculum for a spelling summer camp with Dream Enrichment Classes, and founded the Queen Bee Project last year – a social enterprise dedicated to reducing competition anxiety & making academic competitions accessible to everyone! Snehaa has pronounced and/or judged for her middle school bee, the Central Valley Regional Spelling Bee, SpellPundit Online National Spelling Bee, International Queen Bee, NASCC Riverside, NSF AAPI Bee, and will be pronouncing/judging at the NSF Online Bee and Wishwin Spellathon soon! Snehaa will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall as an astrophysics major.

aisha randhawaAisha Randhawa competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee four times, placing 7th and 15th overall in her last two years. Her word knowledge has helped her become a better poet and writer. She is an avid golfer and scientist. She has advanced to the California State Science Fair four times and received a first place gold medal for two of her science projects. She hopes to pursue medicine one day as a biophysicist. Aisha is currently the president of her high school's Academic Decathlon Team. She also loves to play jazz piano, and is part of her school's jazz band.


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