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Maya Patel

Maya Patel, fifth-grader at Lawton Chiles Elementary in New Tampa, has had a phenomenal year of achievements. She represented her school at the regional Reflections contest, where she placed first in poetry (literature). Maya represented her school in the Florida state Geographic Bee where only 100 students (4th-8th graders) were selected from a group of at least 1,200 who took the test to qualify. She also represented her school two years in a row at the regional Tropicana Speech contest.

And her most exciting achievement is winning the regional and state competition of Odyssey of the Mind (OM). OM is a world-wide competition, which involves a team of students working together to solve a problem. The students make their own costumes, script and set and perform a skit following various rules. Maya, with her team of six other students from Chiles Elementary, attended the world competition May 27-30 in Ames, Iowa.

In her spare time, Maya likes to listen to Bollywood music, watch TV and read. She enjoys garbas and performs at India Festival in Tampa every year. Her parents are VC and Nila Patel.

Nirja Patel

Nirja Patel has been nominated in the top three for SAEA (South Asian Excellence Awards) in the sports category. Individuals who are of South Asian descent living in the United States are identified for their exceptional achievements in different categories. Nirja has been nominated along with Raj Bhavsar, a gymnast of the U.S. Olympic team, Beijing 2008 and Simi Mehra, LPGA golfer in the sports category.

The 12-year-old (seventh-grade student) has been swimming since she was 5 years of age. For the past two years, Nirja has participated in major swim competitions throughout Florida and has qualified for the state junior Olympics. For 2009, she has already made the Florida Junior Olympics cut for 50M breaststroke, 100M breaststroke, 50M backstroke, 50M butterfly and 100m IM (individual medley) and will take part in Florida Junior Olympics in July 2009.

She also has secured top five placements for major swim meets and received more than 35 awards/medals in the last 12 months. One remarkable achievement was her 50M breaststroke in 35.08 seconds in December 2008, which broke the old Orlando swim pool record of 36.94 seconds set in 1996.

Nirja lives in Tampa and is the daughter of Dr. Manjari Patel and Ilesh Patel.

Note: South Asian Excellence Awards program has been organized by SONY TV and the whole program was recorded and will be broadcasted sometime in July on SONY TV in more than 100 countries.

Rohit Iyer

Rohit Iyer, an eighth-grade student at Liberty Middle School, was recently awarded first place in Florida for his outstanding work in Web Page Creation at the FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) State Leadership Conference. The conference was held April 13-16 in Orlando. More than a 1,000 students participated in different categories.

Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL) is a nonprofit education association with a quarter million students preparing for careers in business and business-related fields. It is the largest business career student organization in the world.

His parents are Ramesh and Jyothi Iyer of Tampa.


Rohit Navelkar, 15, a sophomore at Wharton High School in Tampa, won the Florida State Tennis Singles Championship and was a finalist in the doubles tennis. He also helped the Wharton Team win the State Championship for 2009.

Rohit Navelker
Last year, he was the singles tennis champion for Wharton, when he helped the team win the state title for the first time in the school history. Additionally, he has not losing a single set during the past two years in almost 30 matches.

Rohit was recently honored by The Tampa Tribune at the "Parade of Athletes" for his performance and was selected for the All County Hillsborough team.

His goal is to be a well-rounded high-performance tennis player with a high ranking in Florida and the United States to help get into a college of his choice and play for the college team.

Rohit also plays basketball and likes to run long distance. His parents are Pradeep and Arti Navelkar of Tampa.

Shivani Desai

After more than 10 years of training, Shivani Desai showcased her talent and dedication toward Indian culture with a Bharatha Natya Arangetram in front of more than 250 guests April 18 at the Plant City High School Auditorium.

The 17-year-old high school junior in Plant City began learning Bharatha Natyam at age 6 at the Padmini Institute of Fine Arts in New York under well-known Hindi film actress Padmini Ramachandran. Since her family moved to this state in 2002, Shivani continued training under Radha Balasubramanian of Sri Guru School of Dance, India.

The items she performed, which were musically complimented by a live classical orchestra, included Pushpanjali and Ganeshanjali in Sanskrit, Jathiswaram, then Amba Stuti in Gujarati, Varnam (Ramayana) in Sanskrit, Murali Manohar in Hindi, Shiva Stuti in Sanskrit, Deiva Kurathi in Tamil, and finally Thillana and the Mangalam. She was accompanied by her sister Juhi in two of the dances and her brother Anuj in one dance. Guru Radha Balasubramanian flew from India to conduct her Arangetram and five members of the orchestra flew from the New York and New Jersey areas.

Her parents are Mahesh and Jigisha Desai of Plant City.

Know of any youth who have won an award or have a recent accomplishment? Send in your news on youth to Shephali J. Rele, Khaas Baat, 18313 Cypress Stand Circle, Tampa, FL 33647 or e-mail Be sure to include school name, grade and age.
Youth Highlight         Send your youth highlight

Know of any youth who have won an award or have a recent accomplishment? Send in your news on youth to Shephali J. Rele, Khaas Baat, 18313 Cypress Stand Circle, Tampa, FL 33647 or e-mail Be sure to include school name, grade and age.

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