Spelling champ in D.C. for bee glory

Howard 8th-grader goes for national championship

May 30, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When eighth-grader Heather desJardins-Park correctly spelled symbiosis and won the Howard County Library Spelling Bee in March, she also won a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which starts today in Washington.

That night, before she could celebrate her victory, she was given a study guide for the coming challenge -- Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a huge, heavy book with small print and tissue-thin paper. This was the word list for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Now, the Lime Kiln Middle School student is working to quell her nerves and keep expectations low as she waits in Washington for the spelling to begin.

"I hope I'll get past the first round," she said Sunday, telephoning from the Grand Hyatt Washington, where the bee will be held. "If I don't, though, it'll be cool to watch."

For the county bee, desJardins-Park studied a pamphlet of about 700 words, typically going over the spellings during dinner with her mother, Marie desJardins, her father, John Park, and her sister, Caroline, a fifth-grader at Fulton Elementary School who qualified for the county bee in both 2006 and 2007.

But for the national bee, desJardins-Park did not work as hard because she could not study the entire dictionary. "I haven't been studying as much as I did for the other bee because there's not really like one thing you can study," she said. "You can study a lot or a little. I've been doing maybe like 20 minutes a day."

She has had to balance that studying with typical end-of-the-school-year activities, including an oboe performance, but she said it has not been bad. "We haven't been getting as much homework because it's kind of the end of the year," she said.

On Sunday, Heather, along with her mother, father and younger sister, were taken to the Grand Hyatt Washington in a limousine provided by The Sun, a sponsor of the county bee.

This week, 286 spellers are converging in Washington for the 80th Scripps National Bee, the largest number ever, according to the bee's Web site. All contestants are in grades four through eight.

Many will be eliminated in today's nontelevised rounds -- a written competition, followed by four oral ones. The semifinals will be broadcast live tomorrow on ESPN and the championship later that evening by ABC.

Marie desJardins expects the written competition to be tricky, and she has been helping Heather prepare. It is in the form of a 25-question multiple choice test. Contestants may lose confidence in the correct spelling, if they see other options that look plausible, she said.

Marie desJardins said many of the contestants were walking around the hotel carrying those heavy dictionaries, and she imagines that many have spent hours a day learning as many words as possible. "I think Heather made a pretty conscious choice that she wasn't going to try to do that," Marie desJardins said.

"She's excited about it, but she's not pinning all her hopes on winning the spelling bee, which I think is healthy because only one of the kids is going to win it."

Bee facts

What: Scripps National Spelling Bee

When: Today and tomorrow

Where: Grand Hyatt Washington

Schedule: Today - preliminaries (rounds one and two), 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.; quarterfinals (rounds three and four), 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Tomorrow - semifinals, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; championship, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Television coverage: quarterfinals and semifinals on ESPN; championship on ABC (WMAR-Channel 2).

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