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Spelling Bee Under Way; Record 247 Children Participating

May 31, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It took just one minute and one word _ brougham _ for 14-year-old Melanie Lake to become the first casualty in the 68th National Spelling Bee.

But the eighth-grader from Lexington Park, Md., soon had company this morning in the offstage Comfort Room.

Thirty-eight of the 247 contestants in the record field stumbled on their opening words, from ``courlan″ (a bird) to ``stein″ (a beer mug) to ``arbuscle″ (a dwarf tree) to ``barbican″ (the outer defensive work of a castle) to ``dahlia″ (a flower).

But Michael Tang, 13, of Palm Coast, Fla., guessed right on ``orthographize,″ although he didn’t know that it meant to spell a word correctly.

The champion will be crowned Thursday after nearly 15 hours in the spelling showdown.

One of the youngest contestants, John Dale Beety, 9, of Logansport, Ind., was done in by ``maestro,″ a master conductor or artist. The boy was still disconsolate 10 minutes later after trudging out of the Comfort Room.

``He’s not talking to anybody right now. He’s not talking to me,″ said his mother, Martha Beety. ```Maestro’ _ that’s one he knows.″

Bill Lucarell, 13, survived the first round by guessing at ``vertiginate″ _ to whirl around _ but drew a chuckle by asking the judges immediately, ``Am I right?″ The absence of a bell signaled he was.

Gwen Jackson, 11, of Bridgeport, Ohio, made a quick exit on ``embarcadero,″ a landing place. After spending 90 minutes a day grappling with spelling lists since December, she plans to ``enjoy about five months of not studying.″

Some children requested definitions, roots or to hear their word in sentences. Cory Labanow, 13, of Elyria, Ohio, just plowed ahead when he heard ``junta″ and omitted the ``j″ from the word for a post-revolutionary ruling council.

``It was my own ignorance,″ said Labanow. ``It rang a bell. I guess I should have studied it a little more.″

But Christy Yohn, 13, of Greencastle, Pa., was philosophical about her inability to handle ``monomaniacal,″ a madness involving a single idea or notion.

``We get to tour around Washington while the rest of the people are spelling,″ she said with a grin.

For the opening round only, all the words were from a list of 3,000 words the students have been scrutinizing for months. The subsequent rounds will be words chosen from an unabridged Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Lake, the contest’s second speller, didn’t recognize ``brougham″ when she heard it read aloud by the official pronouncer, although she had studied it many times before. It is a closed carriage. Melissa spelled it b-r-o-o-m-e.

``I was pronouncing it differently when I was studying it,″ she said after emerging from the Comfort Room, where the vanquished could munch on chips and pretzels and sip punch to drown their sorrows.

Susan Trenbath, the 15th contestant, stumbled over ``eurytherm,″ an organism that tolerates a wide range of temperatures. She said she knew all the words asked before her ``except for that `brougham.‴

Trenbath, 14, said she wasn’t disappointed for herself, but for the people back home at the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia. ``They paid for me to come here,′ she said.

The contest is sponsored by Scripps Howard Inc., with contestants coming from 49 states, several territories and international schools abroad. Each youth was sponsored by a hometown newspaper.

Some spellers lucked out, drawing relatively familiar words such as ``facade,″ ``jettison″ and ``apartheid.″

Three of the contestants are 9 years old, including two third-graders. The oldest is 15. Half are in eighth grade _ the cutoff _ and most of the rest are seventh graders.

Forty-five of the youths have vied in this ritual of spring in the nation’s capital before, including Amanda Burke, 12, of Gate City, Va., a four-time contestant.

But the reigning champion, Ned G. Andrews, 14, of Knoxville, Tenn., was not defending his title. He was spending this morning a few blocks away trying to win the National Geography Bee. But he fell in the 7th round.

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