51 pupils compete, fifth-grader is No. 1

Spelling of an adherent of an ancient religion wins second county bee

March 15, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ninety minutes into the Howard County Library Spelling Bee, the starting field of 51 had been whittled to four.

Christopher Breden, a seventh-grader from Faith Bible Church Academy, took the stage, but an "empanada" proved his undoing. Unable to spell the savory snack, he was out.

Heather desJardins-Park, a seventh-grader from Lime Kiln Middle School, was laid low by "leviathan."

And then there were two: Mary Kate Helm, a sixth-grader from Trinity School, and Joey Haavik, a fifth-grader from Pointers Run Elementary School. Mary Kate spelled "resile" (to spring back into shape) correctly. Joey knew "psyche." The next word was "vermiculated." Mary Kate added an extra "c."

Then Joey walked to the microphone. He spelled the word correctly. The audience Friday night in Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School stood up, clapping and cheering. Joey, standing at the microphone, did a little dance move. "I'd like to thank my parents," he said.

But the contest wasn't over.

Under the rules, he had to spell one more word to win. And it was a tough one: "Zoroastrian," an adherent of an ancient religion. People whispered to each other. If he missed it, and Mary Kate spelled it correctly, the contest would continue.

"OK," said Joey with a shrug of his shoulders. He didn't ask to have the word repeated. He didn't ask for a definition. He simply spelled it. Correctly.

"I just remembered that word," he said later.

Then it really was over. Joey had won the spelling bee, meaning he would collect a $1,000 scholarship and trophy. He also qualified for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee on May 31 and June 1 in Washington.

This year's bee had its moments of drama, as pupils in grades four through eight stood one by one in front of the microphone to spell words that included "dermatology, spatula, cumuli and impeccable."

There were moments of lightness, too. Something about reading the definition of "junket" in a room filled with politicians seemed to give everyone the giggles.

At one point, it seemed as though the contestants couldn't miss. One after another, they nailed the words. "Snooker. Precinct. Allocate. Pagan. Naturalism."

But eventually, there were slips. More than a few contestants cried as they left the stage.

Others didn't break down until their parents came over with hugs and sympathy.

Cynthia Jobling, a library staff member who had volunteered to work at the event, offered a few soothing words to contestants as they left the stage. Everyone received a plaque, a certificate and a T-shirt. The contestants who had been eliminated then sat together in a reserved section of the auditorium to watch the rest of the event. Some played cat's cradle or whispered with one another.

And there were several appeals. Courtney Watson, a county school board member who was head judge last year and this year, said there might have been more appeals this year because pupils, parents and teachers knew the rules better. The appeals were generally related to the pupil not hearing the word correctly, but Watson said the judges could play back the tape to make sure it had been correctly pronounced.

Only one pupil, Brady Robinson, a fifth-grader at Hammond Elementary School, won his appeal and was allowed to return to the stage. But at his next chance behind the microphone, he misspelled "samurai" and was once again out of the contest.

Caroline desJardins-Park, a fourth-grader at Fulton Elementary School, and Heather desJardins-Park, a seventh-grader at Lime Kiln, were the only siblings in the bee. The sisters lasted several rounds, and Heather was one of the last four on stage.

Pupils qualified for the regional bee, sponsored by the Howard County Library and The Sun, by winning spelling bees in their public or private schools or their home-schooling association. So by the time they had been arranged in rows on the stage of the theater - parents and teachers in the audience - their expectations had risen.

Before the first words were spelled, the rules were recited and several local officials gave speeches.

"We wish to congratulate you," said Arvell Greenwood Jr. of the Howard County Library board of trustees, noting that qualifying for the bee is an achievement.

"As we salute this constellation of spelling stars, we wish them all well," said Howard County Executive James N. Robey.

Robert J. Kemmery, from the office of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., read a proclamation declaring March 10 as Howard County Spelling Bee Day.

Then Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority and the evening's master of ceremonies, introduced the contestants one by one as they walked onto the stage and took their seats.

Patrick Clancy, a member of the library board, was the pronouncer.

Contestants could ask him to repeat the word, use it in a sentence, define it or give its country of origin.

"We will be touching on the majesty of the English language," Clancy said by way of introduction. "It makes for exquisite expression and exquisite poetry. But it's very difficult to learn and difficult to spell."

Story said he enjoys being part of the spelling bee because it gives children a chance to shine.

Seeing the pupils so excited about academics is gratifying, Watson said.

mean, the expressions on their "There were a lot of great moments with the kids," she said. "I faces were just priceless when they spelled the word right or wrong."

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