Spellers’ v-o-c-a-b-u-l-a-r-i-e-s put to test in national bee

Competitors get word in edgewise at annual bee

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Though she conquered a week’s worth of words that ranged from tongue-twisters to silent-lettered tricksters, 14-year-old Sukanya Roy couldn’t quite say how she felt after becoming the 87the Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

Hours after her regular bedtime, the Newton Ransom, Penn. resident correctly spelled “periscii” and “cymotrichous” to clinch the title.

“My heart started pounding, I couldn’t believe it,” Sukanya said, her skinny frame shaking with excitement and adrenaline as she clutched her champion trophy. “I just wanted to make sure I spelled it right. I really didn’t want to get it wrong. It’s just amazing and it’s hard to put it into words.”

Sukanya competed in the national bee in 2009, where she placed 12th and last year where she placed 20th.

An only child, Sukanya said she hadn’t given much thought to the $30,000 prize money because she took it “round by round to see how far I got. I guess some is going to a college fund and some I’m just going to spend myself.”

Coming in second was Toronto eighth-grader Laura Newcombe, a fan favorite thanks to her quirky facial reactions and witty banter with the judges.

Laura misspelled “sorites” in the second round of what would have been a showdown of 25 “champion words” — a “lightning round” of sorts between the final two contestants — and as she heard the judge’s bell it was the first time the 12-year-old’s smile wavered throughout the competition.

The championship finals whittled down the 13 spellers slowly but inevitably, except for the second round which knocked out four students. First-time bee participant Dhivya Murugan, 10, buried her head in her mother’s arms after being eliminated for misspelling “ephelides,” and 14-year-old Mashad Arora refused a hug from his parents after “samiel” tripped him up.

The emotional and exciting three-hour finals capped off a challenging day of competition that drew cheers, high fives and not a small amount of dejected sighs.

The personalities of the 41 semifinalists were rivaled only by the range of words they faced to be the one holding the gleaming champion’s trophy at the end of the night.

Whittled down from 275 spellers and three rounds of competition, the spellers gathered at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, having come from across the United States, as well as several other countries.

The semifinalists battled through four rounds of spelling that served up words such as “isochronal,” “graphorrhea,” “rhabdomancer” and “hypotrichosis.”

Samuel Estep, 13, attributed his success to working with a spelling coach, but acknowledged being amazed that he “could actually do this.”

“She gave me different lists of words from different languages,” said Samuel, of Berryville, Va., his blue eyes twinkling behind his glasses. “I didn’t know the first French word I got. I wasn’t sure if I should say ‘i’ or ‘e,’ but I said ‘i.’ “

The word was “brisance” and is a noun that refers to the result of an explosion that’s dependent in part on the rate of detonation.

He was one of the 13 boys and girls to reach the championship round, and the only speller left from Maryland, Virginia or the District.

The home-schooled seventh-grader competed in the spelling bee last year, but didn’t make it past the semifinal round.

Surjo Bandyopadhyay, of Lusby, Md., got a laugh upon being asked to spell “lysozyme.”

“Give me all the information you can on this word,” the 14-year-old said to head pronouncer Jacques Bailly.

After proclaiming “nachschlag” a “strange word,” then misspelling it, Surjo got another laugh when he shouted “Whoah. OK” as he learned how far off he was from the correct spelling.

Back for his third shot at the title, Longmont, Colo., resident David Phan used the back of his name tag to mime writing his words. The technique helped the 14-year-old through a few rounds, but he ended his run with a big sigh after incorrectly adding an “a” to “ocypode.”

Some spellers needed only a few hints from the judges, confidently spelling such words as “chresard,” “pallium” and “palynology,” then returning to their chairs before the judges finished nodding in approval.

Others cheered with their hands in the air after squeaking by a word or offered an audible “whew” after a pregnant pause listening for the judge’s “incorrect” bell to ring.

“I think I’ve got this” announced Anna-Marie Sprenger, an eighth-grader from Provo, Utah, each time she spelled a word, though she missed “privatim” and thus denied a spot in the championship round.

After watching in awe as her two-minute personal story aired live on ESPN, Emily Keaton, of Louisville, Ky., was the first to go in the semifinal round.

The 12-year-old forgot the first “c” in “sciamachy,” but found comfort from her parents as she cried silently behind her wavy blond curls.

When the 275 spellers first arrived in Maryland, they took a written test followed by two preliminary rounds. But before these spellers could participate in the national bee, they had qualify by winning a local spelling bee conducted by a community spelling bee program.

This year’s group was almost evenly divided between boys and girls, and most participants came from the seventh and eighth grades. The spellers had to be in eighth grade or lower.

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