With 'chiaroscurist,' Jamaican wins national spelling bee Girl, 12, is first winner from outside the 50 states

May 29, 1998|By Anne Miller | Anne Miller,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

WASHINGTON -- With her supporters waving green-and-black flags, Jody-Anne Maxwell, a 12-year-old from Kingston, Jamaica, spelled "chiaroscurist" yesterday to become the first national spelling bee champion from outside the United States.

Navigating past 11 words, including "alveolate," "cerography" and "pampas" over the two days of competition, the seventh-grader defeated 248 rivals and won $10,000 and other prizes at the 71st annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

Afterward, Jody-Anne was the soul of modesty.

"God just happened to choose me," she said.

Jody-Anne defeated Prem Murthy Trivedi, a 12-year-old eighth-grader, making him the runner-up for a second consecutive year in his fourth -- and final -- bid for the spelling trophy.

Participants cannot compete past the eighth grade. Prem misspelled "prairillon" in Round 10.

Among Marylanders, Ellen Rongo of Cumberland spelled her way through the fifth round, the best showing of the seven Maryland students, but was felled by "beadle." An eighth-grader, Ellen emigrated with her family from the Philippines five years ago.

She said she has enjoyed spelling because "ever since I won the regional, I knew that [spelling] could take me farther, make it easier for me to get college scholarships."

"I really felt the pressure," Ellen said. "I prayed a lot. I didn't think I'd make it past the first round."

The competition isn't all work. At last year's bee, Phillip Durkos, a Severna Park native who returned this year, befriended a boy from Puerto Rico, and the two correspond regularly by e-mail.

Spelling was not something that another Marylander, Ben Leedom, pursued initially. The Bel Air eighth-grader said it was just "something the school chose to do, so I went along with it."

His parents finished each other's sentences as they described the nerve-racking experience of watching from the sideline.

"We were on pins and needles," Melissa Leedom said.

"We're out there waiting for each word," her husband, Dennis, added.

"Sitting on the edge of the chair," Melissa Leedom said.

"Parietal" stumped their son in the third round on Wednesday.

After answering reporters' questions, Ben stood next to a wall, hunched over, staring dejectedly at the floor.

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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