Bee's top two spellers have ties to UMBC

March 21, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Maybe it's a UMBC thing.

The first- and second-place finishers of the Howard County Library Spelling Bee were tutored by parents who are professors at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Nagaraj Neerchal, the father of second-place finisher Harsha Neerchal, is chairman of the math and statistics department. Marie desJardins, mother of winner Heather desJardins-Park, is a computer science professor.

For the second year in a row, both of the desJardins-Park children, Heather and Caroline, made it to the county-level bee. Last year, Heather placed in the top four, while Caroline survived five rounds.

This year, Caroline, a fifth-grader at Fulton Elementary School, correctly spelled stethoscope, gorgeous and colloquial. She lost in Round 5 on fuselage.

Nagaraj Neerchal said he is not a particularly good speller, but he was able to help his son go over the words. Mostly, though, he credited Harsha with studying hard and for staying calm under pressure.

Both parents noted that the competition was steep.

"It was a very high-level spelling bee," Neerchal said.

"You can tell a lot of them had memorized the book," desJardins said.

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