Bee Leaves Pupils Spellbound

June 03, 1994|By Verne Kopytoff | Verne Kopytoff,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- For the last surviving Marylander, the disapproving ring of the bell shattered the hall's silence.

To Kathryn Rougle, 12, of Annapolis, the sound marked her final word this year at the 67th annual National Spelling Bee. She misspelled the word "intercalary," an adjective that usually means "inserted" or "interpolated."

But as the last of eight contestants from Maryland, Kathryn found that just making the seventh round of competition was a triumph.

"I'm just glad I got here," she said. "I'm happy I made it to the second day."

She was one of 238 students nationwide who had qualified to compete for the national spelling bee title and one of 43 who had made it as far as the seventh round (out of 15 rounds).

Though the bell signaled errors, it always earned contestants a round of applause as they walked off the stage to a smile, a handshake and a "nice try" from the spelling bee staff.

The bell also carried the sting of defeat -- a sting that only the new National Spelling Bee champion, Ned G. Andrews of Knoxville, Tenn., did not feel this year.

To prepare themselves for the competition, some contestants studied dictionaries and word lists for hours each day starting as far back as November. Others, like Kathryn, said they studied only occasionally; Kathryn said she did so for only a few hours during her school's Easter recess.

But no matter how well-versed in spelling the students became, the experience of standing behind the microphone for the first time in national competition inevitably jangled nerves. Nothing in the school, local and regional competitions could prepare them for the national spotlight and the white glare of television cameras.

"It bothered me most in the first and second round," said Lisa Bazzle, 13, of Waldorf. She misspelled "dossier" in the sixth round.

Her father, David Bazzle, said that the contestants weren't the only ones suffering from anxiety.

"I was just as nervous as she was and maybe more so," he said.

When the moment at the microphone came, some contestants stammered; others seemed assured. As the pronouncer read the words to spell, many contestants in the final rounds failed to recognize the words. The contestants drew on the list of permissible questions:

"What is the word's origin?"

"Could you use it in a sentence?"

"Are there any alternate pronunciations?"

"Could you repeat the word?"

More often than not, contestants hit the mark. And the audience would groan in amazement.

But as the rounds went on, more and more chairs were removed as contestants dropped out. Finally, Brian Kane Lee, 12, of Minot, N.D., misspelled "parvenuism" -- "to behave like one who has risen above the station to which he was born." Ned Andrews, 13, then spelled "antediluvian" correctly, giving him $5,000, the national title and a lot of recognition.

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