Word nerds appeal for mercy, breathe deep before U.S. Spelling Bee finals
By Ian Simpson
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (Reuters) – Young finalists in the Scripps National Spelling Bee turned to occasional deep breathing, writing on their hands and appeals for mercy on Thursday as they competed to make the championships.
Ten spellers out of 45 finalists advanced to the title round. It will be televised by cable channel ESPN at 8 p.m. ET and the winner will take home $40,000 in cash and other prizes.
“I know I’m not from Colorado, but can you cut me some slack?” Mitchell Robson, 14, an eighth-grader from Marblehead, Massachusetts, who made the title round, asked pronouncer Jacques Bailly, the 1980 Bee winner from Colorado.
“I’ll send you some good thoughts,” Bailly replied before Mitchell nailed “nagelfluh,” an Alpine geological formation.
Many of the youthful finalists in the Bee, a U.S. institution since its start in 1925, breathed nervously, chewed their lips, rolled their eyes or stared at the ceiling as they wrestled with such words as “succussatory,” an adjective for violent shaking, and “glaucothoe,” a young crab.
“Yikes!” said Andrew France, 14, an eighth-grader from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, when Bailly gave him “pareiasaur,” a type of dinosaur. He scratched his left ear, looked around and then aced it, drawing applause from the ballroom audience.
Many scribbled with a fingertip on their hands or on the back of their name tags as a brain boost.
The championship finalists include two from the 2015 round. Sneehaa Ganesh Kumar, 13, an eighth-grader from Folsom, California, finished fourth last year, and Sylvie Lamontagne, 13, an eighth-grader from Lakewood, Colorado, tied for ninth.
Jairam Hathwar, 13, a seventh-grader from Painted Post, New York, and brother of the 2014 co-winner, also made the title round.
The finalists were winnowed from more than 280 spelling whizzes after two days of written and oral tests. The Bee has toughened rules to bar ties after co-winners in 2014 and 2015.
Erin Howard, 11, a fifth-grader from Huntsville, Alabama, was the first speller up in the finals – and the first out.
After saying: “Greetings, inhabitants of this planet Earth,” she misspelled “Cheltenham,” a publishing typeface. “OK, thanks,” she said, when a bell rang signaling a misspelling.
Reflecting their wide cultural backgrounds, spellers said hello to Bailly in English, Punjabi, Mandarin and Hawaiian. But Bettie Lehem Closs, 12, a seventh-grader from Durham, North Carolina, greeted him with a breezy “What’s up, doc?” before acing “wootz,” a kind of steel.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)