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For Bee Youngsters, ‘Orthographize’ Is Name of Game

June 1, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Most were ``imperturbable.″ They all knew how to ``orthographize″ or they wouldn’t have been here. But for some, there was no ``solace″ when they heard the judges’ dreaded bell.

So it went Wednesday at the 68th National Spelling Bee, which culminates this afternoon when only one student from the record field of 247 who started this spelling ``skirmish″ will be left standing.

Only 135 survived the opening day’s 2 1/2 rounds. The youths, ages 9 to 15, waited hours on stage for their nerve-racking encounter with each word, many of them esoteric jawbreakers.

They had been able to bone up for the first round, where all the words came from a booklet of 3,000 words they had received months ago.

But from the second round on, anything in the 475,000-word Merriam-Webster Third International Dictionary was fair game. Some were less ``arcane″ than the opening words, which were heavy on scientific terms (``einsteinium,″ ``iridium,″ ``bathymeter″).

Alex Musgrove, 13, an eighth-grader from Sweetwater, Texas, made it to the sixth round last year, but washed out in the second this time by omitting an ``r″ from ``barrister.″ ``I knew all the other words, every single one,″ he lamented.

``They start out easy, then people start dropping like flies,″ said Chris Burgess, 14, of Providence, R.I., who met his fate with ``expunge.″ He did not seem crestfallen.

``I like spelling bees, but I hate spelling,″ the boy explained.

Forty-five of the original contestants had competed here before. Amanda Burke, 12, a seventh-grader from Gate City, Va., making her fourth appearance in the nationals, was done in by ``heresy″ in the second round.

Two sisters, Wendy Guey, 11, who finished ninth last year, and Emily Guey, 13, of West Palm Beach, Fla., were still alive in the third round. They are the first siblings to compete against each other in the national finals.

When the bell rang, each fallen speller was escorted off the stage to a Comfort Room to munch on snacks or have a good cry in private. Some were still moist-eyed when they emerged with their parents.

``The guy didn’t pronounce it right,″ protested Benjamin Jay Wong, 12, of San Angelo, Texas, who stumbled on ``abrogate.″

Angela Hoffmann, 13, of Towanda, Pa., was surprised to hear the bell after she tried ``accordionist.″

``I thought I knew it,″ said Angela, who isn’t sure if she’ll try again next year. ``It’s hard to sit there and wait so long when you’re nervous.″

Michael Boudreau, 13, of Lawrence, Mass., headed for the exit after bungling ``arboretum″ in the second round.

``It doesn’t matter. I got past the first round. That’s all I wanted to do,″ he said.

Blair Spiva, 13, of the Atlanta suburb of Lithia Springs, Ga., had studied two hours a day since December, but was undone by ``chivalrous,″ a word she knew.

``I just slipped up,″ said the eighth-grader, whose only plans now are ``to try to take it easy. I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately.″

The winner will receive $5,000 cash and an assortment of prizes including an electronic dictionary. The contest is sponsored by Scripps Howard Inc., the newspaper group, with more than 200 other newspapers paying to send their hometown spelling bee winners to Washington.

The first national spelling bee was held in 1925. There were no bees during the World War II years of 1943 to 1945. This year’s field of 247 was the largest ever.

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