- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2012

The ring of a brass bell is the signal of defeat in the competitive spelling bee arena, but the whoop from 14-year-old Lena Greenberg on Thursday as she successfully spelled “cholecystitis” was unmistakably the sound of triumph.

“I was amazed,” Lena said after the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended.

The Philadelphia teenager spoke breathlessly, eyes wide behind her glasses as she recalled conjuring the term for an inflamed gallbladder seemingly out of thin air.

“I can’t believe I actually made it.”

Lena was one of five girls and four boys left after a tough three rounds of spelling that cut down the initial group of 50 “athletes of the English language” to the champion round spellers.

“It’s not unprecedented,” said Paige Kimble, the director of the bee and herself the 1981 national champion. “Those were the most challenging words we’ve offered.”

Five-year national spelling bee veteran Nicholas Rushlow, however, was unfazed by all but one of his words.

“I felt like I got pretty lucky with the first two,” said Nicholas, who correctly spelled “gabbai,” the name of a person who manages a synagogue and ”taxonomically,” which refers to scientific classification.

His third word was “monocotyledon,” a type of flowering plant, a word he said he “had no clue” about, but “theophylline,” the name of a medication for treating shortness of breath, was one he had to spell correctly, as his father goes over all of the medical terms with him.

“Last summer he came home and said, ‘I want to do the dictionary,’” Nicholas‘ mother Michelle recalled. “We covered 57 pages a day and finished right before school started.”

Asked about his plans going into the final round — which will be the 14-year-old from Pickerington, Ohio’s last time competing in the national bee — Nicholas said he wanted to “get a good lunch and just chill out.”

This is the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee. The first bee was held in 1925 and had nine contestants. Scripps took over the sponsorship in 1941.

The young competitors were tested over two days by both written and oral spelling tests.

Proud parents and siblings filled the hotel’s ballroom snapping photographs of their spellers, while the semifinalists awaited their names to be called to come to the microphone.

Some fidgeted awkwardly while others whispered into the ear of their neighbors or waved to the audience.

The semifinal round began at about 10 a.m., with Kevin Lazenby, 13, of Opeika, Ala., correctly spelling “cephalalgia,” which is another word for a headache.

Over the next four hours, the stellar spellers took their turns at center stage to face Dr. Jacques Bailly, the word pronouncer, and the dreaded “error” bell.

Simola Nayak of Atlanta looked frantic when she heard her word “rapparee,” the name for an Irish bandit. When the bell tolled, the 13-year-old’s face crumpled as she made her way offstage to bury her head in her mother’s arms.

Some spellers thanked the judges as they made their way off the stage, and others, like Vaidya Govindarajan of Miami, anticipated the bell.

“No, I didn’t think so,” the slender 14-year-old said as he learned his spelling of ”polynee,” a dessert made with cookie dough, was not right.

Despite the growing tension as the semifinal rounds progressed, some spellers kept their chins up, joking with the judges.

After Vanya Shivashankar, 10, of Olathe, Kan., found out her word “pejerrey,” a type of fish, did not have a language of origin, she laughed, “Well, that helps!”

Jae Canetti, of Reston, the last remaining area speller, fist bumped the air when he correctly spelled “habendum,” which is part of a deed. When the 10-year-old was given the word “grundriss,” which is a type of outline, and asked if he could say it back for the judges, he raised an eyebrow, grinned, and said, “Uh, no.”



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