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Spelling Bee Field Narrows to 19

June 3, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nineteen competitors conquered such words as ″flabbergast″ and ″flibbertigibbet″ to advance to the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee today.

Nearly half of the 131 young spellers who survived the first three rounds on Wednesday were knocked out in the fourth and fifth rounds today.

Then came the killer sixth round, with 31 spellers faltering in rapid succession on such words as ″cucaracha″ and ″boutonniere.″

″They were the hardest so far; I didn’t know how to spell most of them,″ said April Donahower, 13, of Ephrata, Pa., who survived by spelling ″noisome.″ An additional 19 dropped out quickly in the seventh round.

The first 11 spellers to step to the microphone this morning breezed through ″tendency,″ ″snooperscope″ and other words.

Then ″illiteracy″ tripped Alison Greene, 14, of Spruce Pine, N.C., and she was the first to make the long walk off stage. Twenty-nine spellers had followed her by the end of the fourth round.

In the next round, Julie Tilsy was stumped by ″exculpatory.″ She stood frozen, staring down with a hand over her forehead, until the judges asked her to please spell. The 14-year-old from Franklin Grove, Ill., misspelled and left the stage with tears welling in her eyes. She was one of 32 eliminated in that round.

Yuni Kim seemed headed for the same fate when she nervously asked the judges for a definition, then the word origin and a second pronunciation of ″plesiosaurus,″ a type of dinosaur. But Yuni, 12, of Pottsville, Pa., pieced together the correct spelling.

During the first three rounds Wednesday, words like ″akropodion,″ ″glomerulus″ and ″coccygeal″ knocked out 104 of the 235 youngsters who competed in the 66th annual contest.

All of the contestants win at least $50. Fourth place pays $1,000; second place pays $4,000; and third pays $2,500.

By the end of today, there will be only one winner, who will collect $5,000. The rest will walk off stage, some crying, others grinning sheepishly.

That means almost everyone’s a loser at the nation’s top spelling match, or everyone’s a winner - depending on your perspective.

″Sometimes I think the most important thing about the spelling bee is that it gives all these real bright kids a chance to fail,″ said Alex J. Cameron, the event’s official pronouncer. ″Many of them are so bright and so young that they’ve never had that chance.

″They discover it’s not the end of everything,″ Cameron said.

Many of the youngsters, ages 9 to 15, studied an hour or more a day for five months to prepare for the contest. They tried to memorize the official lists of more than 1,200 words that lots of adults have never heard before. Those words make up the first two rounds.

Succeeding rounds are of easier words not provided in advance.

That’s what worried Robin Hart Smith, 11, of Senatobia, Miss., a spelling bee veteran who knew the official word lists backwards and forwards.

His first word, ″pultaceous,″ was ″as simple as pie,″ he said. But when the spelling bee moved off the supplied list in the third round, Robin realized he knew only about half the words put to other contestants.

He sailed through ″concertina,″ nonetheless.

″I got lucky,″ he said. Robin’s luck ran out today with the word ″weaselly.″

Despite the easier words, 30 youngsters fell from the competition in the third round. Some lost with painfully tentative recitals, others after confidently blurting out the wrong letters.

Among the survivors was a beaming 9-year-old, Wendy Guey of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She handled the word ″nenuphar″ in the first round and tackled ″whippoorwill″ and ″complement″ with confidence.

The only other 9-year-old in the bee, Jennifer Cheng of Easton, Pa., stumbled in the third round on the word ″telegraphy.″

Forty-three spellers had endured the bright spotlight of the national bee before. Among them was Taylor West, 14, of Altavista, Va., who was making her fourth appearance and charged through Wednesday’s three rounds successfully. Today she triumphed with ″tawniness″ and ″anythingarian,″ then fell out in the sixth round by misspelling ″genteelly.″

The 131 girls and 104 boys reached the national competition, which is sponsored by Scripps Howard Newspapers, by winning local contests sponsored by 225 individual papers.

They came from 49 states, as well from Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia and Mexico. One contestant, the daughter of a U.S. serviceman, came from Germany.

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