- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Forty-sixyouths who correctly spelled words such as vaudevillian, imperceptible and megalopolis yesterday will compete in the final rounds of the 79th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee today in the District.

The contest for 139 boys and 136 girls began yesterday in the Independent Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel as friends, relatives and teachers cheered them on. The contestants qualified for the first round by winning contests in all 50 states, Canada, the Bahamas, Europe, Guam, Jamaica, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The spellers filled the big stage and took turns at the microphone to spell words announced by Jacques Bailly, an associate professor at the University of Vermont and the 1980 national champion, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

The contestants were allowed to ask Mr. Bailly to repeat the words, use the words in sentences, provide definitions and the words’ etymology.

“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 Maheen Rana, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Vista Middle School in Red Bluff, Calif., who was competing in her second national bee.

Maheen correctly spelled the word hyphaeresis — which means the omission of a sound, letter or syllable from a word — and walked back to her seat with a smile.

Others took a lighter approach.

“Can you spell that?” Jeremiah Weaver, a 10-year-old fifth-grader from Jackson, Mich., asked Mr. Bailly, seconds after Mr. Bailly asked Jeremiah to spell the word xiphias, a genus of fish that includes the common swordfish.

“Not right now,” Mr. Bailly said, as he and the audience broke out in laughter.

Jeremiah, one of a dozen 10-year-olds in the contest, correctly spelled the word and ran back to his seat. However, he didn’t make it to the final round.

Several spellers showed emotion after correctly spelling their word and returning to their seats.

Charley Allegar, 14, of Harrisburg, Pa., pumped his fists in the air after he correctly spelled the word objuration, which means binding by oath.

This is Charley’s third trip to the finals. A wrestler, Charley plays piano, football and baseball, and likes to read and write.

A bell rang to signal when a contestant misspelled a word. A chaperone walked each contestant to a “comfort room,” where a parent could console the children. Few of those who misspelled a word were seen crying.

In the second round, Nicole Rose Kennington, 13, of New Zealand, became red-eyed and quickly was comforted and praised by her mother, Sandra, and Janet Lucas, organizer of the spelling bee contest in New Zealand.

“I used ‘a’ instead of ‘o,’ ” Nicole said after she misspelled the word embololalia, which means a speech disorder in which meaningless words or sounds are interjected into sentences.

“I know how to spell it,” Nicole said.

Most spellers listened carefully, pronounced the word, asked questions and then spelled it correctly. Some used their forefingers to write the letters on their wrists or the back of placards that hung from their necks.

The preliminary championship rounds will begin at noon today and will be broadcast live on ESPN, which has televised the final rounds of the bee in their entirety since 1994. The championship rounds will be nationally broadcast live by ABC at 8 p.m. tonight.

The winner receives more than $42,000 in cash and prizes.

The Louisville Courier-Journal started the bee in 1925. The E.W. Scripps Co., a media conglomerate, assumed sponsorship in 1941.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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