Kid heading to D.C. for a spell

He'll represent Harford at national bee


Kevin Lance Lotharp landed a spot in the national spelling bee, representing Harford County, with two words -- undulate and condiment.

"You have to spell one additional word to end the competition," the 12-year-old said.

The seventh-grader at Edgewood Middle School outspelled more than 20 Harford pupils who had outspelled competitors in their schools. Lance took first place in the county competition in March and set his sights on the nationals.

Winning entitled him to represent Harford in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, to be held Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, and to compete for the $20,000 prize. The words judges toss at him will be more difficult, and outspelling 273 other champions will be a formidable task, he said.

So he is studying -- Greek and Latin word elements, a word list provided on the national bee's Web site, and a text titled "Verbomania." He practices on the family computer, which has a pronouncer. Teachers have coached him, friends are quizzing him and his mother is leafing through the dictionary with him.

"He has a real gift in that he can stay calm and can articulate," Denise Straun said of her eldest son. "He is really good with word origins and roots."

While Straun, who will be in the audience next week with Lance's father, aunt and younger brother, admits to nervousness about the competition, her son just wants to win.

"I am more excited than nervous and anxious to win," Lance said. "That is the pressure. I am preparing to win."

About half of the contestants will be eliminated during the preliminary round on the first day. ESPN will carry the rounds on Thursday, as it has for several years. But for the first time, ABC will broadcast the final round live at 8 p.m. Thursday.

"The kids don't seem phased by television," said Mark Kroeger, spokesman for the bee, which is in its 79th year. "Most have incredibly strong stage presence and an ability to concentrate."

The road to the national tournament, which dates to 1925 in Louisville, Ky., begins at a school-level bee, with words selected from the Scripps National Spelling Bee Paideia, a study booklet with more than 4,100 words in 26 categories.

Contestants must be younger than 16 and not yet promoted to the eighth grade. This year they range in age from 9 to 15, with a nearly equal number of boys and girls, according to the tournament Web site.

School winners advance through countywide and often regional competitions for the opportunity to take a crack at words such as appoggiatura, which won the 2005 championship for Anurag Kashrap of San Diego.

Preparing for the competition already has helped Lance get ready for college entry exams and sparked an interest in Greek and Latin, he said.

The winner will take home about $20,000 in prize money. Should Lance be the 2006 champion, he said he would put the bulk of his winnings into a college savings plan. He is considering Johns Hopkins, Harvard or Yale, he said. But before he starts eighth grade, he has his sights set on Washington.

"It is a real honor to represent Harford County," he said. "If I win, I would be the first winner from Maryland in all 79 years of the contest."

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