- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Northwest was abuzz with supportive parents-turned-coaches as the 80th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee got under way yesterday.

This year’s competition is the largest in its history, with 286 of the best and brightest spellers from across the country and English-speaking parts of the world competing for nearly $50,000 in prizes, including $20,000 in cash, a $5,000 scholarship and reference books from Encyclopedia Britannica worth $3,800.

The preliminary round began with a multiple-choice test that included words such as syssarcosis, which refers to the joining of bones by means of muscle, and ylem, the substance from which all matter is said to be derived.

After the second round, which consisted of oral spelling, fewer than 110 contestants remained. In that round, four of nine spellers from Maryland were eliminated and eight of 13 spellers from Virginia were sent home.

The total dropped to 94 spellers after the third round, and by the end of the day, 59 youngsters had advanced to the semifinals, which are scheduled to be broadcast live on ESPN today. The final round will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. on ABC.

The District’s representative, 12-year-old Olivia Lasche, advanced to round four, but was eliminated after an incorrect spelling of the word desuetude, a word of French origin describing the state of being no longer used or practiced.

After the bee, Olivia did not want to comment on her performance, but her mother said she was proud of her daughter and disappointed that the District’s rules don’t allow city winners to compete again.

“We’re disappointed, obviously, but we’re very happy she went to the quarterfinals,” said Pam Levin, 43.

Many of the other spellers were in good spirits regardless of how they performed.

Grace Upshaw, 13, of Buies Creek, N.C., was all smiles after the competition and surprised at her own success. She made it into the semifinals.

“I wasn’t too confident,” Grace said. “I didn’t think I studied enough, thought I would get eliminated in the preliminaries and was just hoping that wouldn’t happen.” Dakota Thiel Sinclair, 12, of Weyburn, Canada, joked with some newfound friends about not making it past the second round.

“I went home and cried. I’m still crying, just at heart,” he said. “Seriously, I don’t really care. I had fun.” Among the semifinalists was the only fifth-year competitor. Samir Patel, 13, of Colleyville, Texas, had mixed success in the bee, finishing 14th last year, second the year before and tying for third in 2003.

Perhaps just as important as getting a few steps closer to deciding a winner is the roughly 12 hours of relief some parents got before the bee resumes today.

“You’re more nervous than they are,” said Susan Levin, 47, of Wilson, N.C., whose daughter was eliminated in the second round. “I’ve gotten more nervous for her than I’ve ever gotten for myself.” Her daughter, Caroline, said she wasn’t nervous and didn’t feel pressure to perform despite the hundreds of people in the audience.

“It didn’t look like that many people,” she said. “I came here basically for the experience.”

Still, nerves were nearly shattered among many parents, even those who had no children in the bee.

Suzie Smith, 68, of The Villages, Fla., and her husband, Jimmy, brought their 10-year-old grandson, Evan Langfelder, to the District to see the White House, but found themselves captivated by the bee.

“I could cry when they miss a word,” Mrs. Smith said. “I don’t think the children even know how great they are.”

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