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Home-schooler wins spelling bee

May 30, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ For a 13-year-old New York City girl who has been schooled at home, the tedium of spelling finally paid off. ``Yeah,″ Rebecca Sealfon screamed, pumping her arms and leaping around the stage when she won this year’s national spelling bee.

Since last summer, she tirelessly studied spelling word lists for up to three hours a day.

``You know, spelling is the most boring thing in the world,″ she told reporters Thursday at the close of the two-day Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

But her passion for winning was apparent. So nervous during the competition, she asked to wait her turn off stage. Rumors circulated that she was sick, but Rebecca said the event was just nerve-wracking.

``I couldn’t stand it,″ she explained after winning the spelling marathon.

Nervous or not, Rebecca, who is home-schooled by her mother and placed eighth in last year’s competition, mastered words, including ``vernissage,″ ``vaporetto″ and ``bourgade″ to defeat Prem Murthy Trivedi, 11, of Howell, N.J.

``This was incredible luck,″ said Rebecca, sponsored by the New York Daily News. ``There were words I did not know in every round.″

In addition to winning $5,000, which she plans to save for college, she took home books and other prizes, including a laptop computer. Prem earned $4,000 for his second-place finish. Sudheer Potru, 13, of Beverly Hills, Mich., won the $2,500 third-place prize.

Some of the 245 contestants spelled words by syllables. But Rebecca spelled letter-by-letter, often stopping after each one to cup her hands over her mouth. ``I was thinking what letter was next and I was whispering the letter to myself,″ she explained.

After each success, she raised her arms in the air and bounded off the stage.

For the last nine rounds, she battled only Prem, who was competing in the national spelling bee for the third time. Prem lost after he added an extra ``l″ to the word ``cortile,″ a courtyard.

Prem, who likes to study archaeology, swim and play chess and basketball, remained poised throughout the contest, calmly enunciating each letter into the microphone. He was disappointed but said he will try to qualify again next year.

Nerves began to fray as the second day of competition droned on, speller-by-speller, word-by-word, letter-by-letter. As the competition progressed, the words got harder and more spellers were disqualified.

Matthew Elkins, 13, of Solomons Island, Md., was tripped up by the double ``o″ in the word ``oophagous.″ Diana Smith, 14, of Memphis, Tenn. was stumped by the double ``i″ in the word ``foliiform.″ Brittany Holmes, 14, of Littleton, Colo., misspelled ``senary″ with a ``c.″

Each speller had a unique style.

Samuel Bright, 13, Peoria, Ill., spelled in time to a metronome, his voice rising and falling on alternate letters. Others like David Blum, 13, of Bel Air, Md., often spelled in a rapid-fire manner. Without hesitation, he rattled off ``s-y-z-y-g-y,″ a term in astronomy for two points in the orbit of a celestial body.

Struggling with the tough words, the spellers sometimes closed their eyes, scratched or bobbed their heads and frowned. Among the most animated was third-place finisher Sudheer.

He often squinted behind his glasses, sighed loudly and stared at the ceiling for guidance. On his final turn, he turned his back to the microphone to ponder the word ``pachymeter.″

It did not help. When he turned back around, he made the mistake of spelling the word with an ``i″ instead of a ``y.″

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