Staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON — After more than three rounds of spelling such words as “spheterize,” “ibidem,” “lipogrammatism” and “obstreperous,” 46 elementary and middle school students remained Wednesday at the end of the first day of tense competition in the annual national spelling bee.
The winner will be crowned Thursday night on national TV.
Scores from a 25-word written test and a round of spelling into the microphone were used to narrow the field of 274 fourth- through eighth-graders to the top 97 spellers.
Zia Elementery’s Lucas Donaldson was eliminated in the second round by the word ronquil, which is is “a family of fish that live on the northwest coast of North America.” He was the 62nd speller eliminated.
From there, 51 spellers stumbled on such words as “putative,” “boswellize,” “opeidoscope” and “jacamar,” the telltale sound of a bell signifying their mistakes.
After hearing the correct spelling, they were quickly escorted off the elaborate, red-carpeted stage to a “comfort room” to be consoled in private.
As if the contest to be crowned America’s best speller wasn’t intense enough, this year it includes the first live, prime-time network broadcast of the finals, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT Thursday on ABC.
The winner goes home with more than $42,000 in cash and prizes.
Round Four was halted midstream, just as the number of spellers who qualified for the next round reached 46, but also with 13 contestants who had yet to spell.
Unfortunately for 12-year-old Samir Sudhir Patel, the end came just as he stepped to the microphone.
“Did it have to be me?” Samir, a seventh-grader who is home-schooled in Colleyville, Texas, was overheard asking a bee official afterward. Last year, Samir tied for second-place.
Bee director Paige Kimble said spelling was halted mid-round so there would be enough spellers for Thursday’s live broadcasts, in the afternoon on ESPN and later on ABC.
The goal is to have about 10 spellers for the prime-time event.
Competition resumes Thursday at noon EDT on the sports cable network.
During the competition, the 9- to 15-year-old spellers sit on the red-and-blue stage, some deep in concentration with heads bowed or resting in their palms. Others yawn, look up at the ceiling, chat with seatmates or watch intently as spellers approach the microphone.
“Sounds scary,” said Keegan Dunnagan, a seventh-grader at Carthage Middle School in Carthage, N.Y., as he approached and was asked to spell “makara,” a water monster from the Hindu religion.
“Can you repeat the word please? Any alternate pronunciations?” he asked. After asking for the language of origin and told it was sanskrit, Keegan said softly: “That doesn’t help me.”
He did not make it to Round Three.
Spellers may ask questions about a word’s pronunciation, definition, part of speech, use in a sentence and etymology. Some ask all the above.
“Are there any alternate pronunciations? Can I please have a definition? May I please have it in a sentence? Are there any alternate definitions?” came the queries from 12-year-old Maheen Rana, a seventh-grader at Vista Middle School in Red Bluff, Calif., who was competing in her second national bee.
She haltingly spelled “hyphaeresis” correctly — it means the omission of a sound, letter or syllable from a word — and walked back to her seat with a smile. Maheen fumbled on “papeterie,” another word for stationery, in the fourth round.
The group of spellers who made it to the 79th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee qualified by winning local contests in the 50 states, as well as in American Samoa, the Bahamas, Canada, Europe, Guam, Jamaica, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
About one-fourth, or 66, are making repeat appearances, including two eighth-graders who are competing in their fifth and final bee. Both made it into Round Five.
Since 1994, the second day of spelling has been broadcast on ESPN.
But this year, in a nod to the popularity of “reality TV,” the championship rounds were moved to ABC for a live, prime-time broadcast to a larger viewing audience.
Spelling bees are gaining in popularity, thanks partly to the ESPN broadcasts and the competition’s starring roles in movies, including the recently released “Akeelah and the Bee,” and a Tony-winning Broadway musical, said Kimble, the bee’s 1981 champion.
The Louisville Courier-Journal started the bee in 1925. The E.W. Scripps Co., a media conglomerate, assumed sponsorship in 1941.
Wednesday’s competition was not televised.