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Wisconsin Girl Wins Spelling Bee in Gruelling Duel

May 31, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Joanne Lagatta, a 13-year-old from Clintonville, Wis., won the 64th National Spelling Bee Thursday, correctly spelling ″inappetence″ and ″antipyretic″ to end 90 minutes of unabridged torture with her last competitor.

Joanne bested Maria Mathew, 11, of Sterling, Ill., who slipped up with the mistaken spelling, ″inappetance.″

″I was getting more and more nervous,″ Joanne said. ″I just wanted to call it a tie.″

Joanne tensely bit her lip when she spelled ″antipyretic,″ which means an agent that allays fever. She immediately went to Maria and shook her hand, then, with eyes and mouth wide open, breathlessly accepted a gilded trophy.

Asked why she was so confident spelling the final word, she explained, ″We just studied it in health class.″

Joanne also correctly spelled ″inappetence,″ meaning a lack of desire for food or drink, which Maria had misspelled. Joanne began the 25th round by correctly spelling ″anxiolytic,″ which means a drug that relieves stress and worry.

Two years ago, Joanne bowed out in the fourth round when she misspelled ″apocryphal.″

She told reporters she did not study a dictionary or spelling lists to prepare for the contest, relying instead on her voracious reading habits and some coaching from her mother.

″I read some books like over and over again,″ she said. ″Whenever I see a new word, I just remember it.″

Joanne, whose mother is a nurse and whose father is a hospital administrator, is in the eighth grade at Clintonville Junior High School. She plays french horn in the band and is a member of the ski club.

At Cindy B’s, a tavern in Clintonville, 18 teachers from the junior high gathered to watch the contest on television and were disappointed when CNN turned to other news before the finish. A cheer went up when a reporter told English teacher Ed Johnson that Joanne had won.

″This is the greatest thing to happen in Clintonville since our state basketball championship. This is greater. This is pure intelligence,″ Johnson said of Joanne’s victory

Her head-to-head contest with Maria had begun in the ninth round and continued as each misspelled such words as ″unguerdoned″ and ″oleaginous.″

Twice, pronouncer Alex Cameron left his desk and walked to the two contestants to make sure they pronounced their words correctly.

Joanne, the best of the 227 students who began the competition Wednesday morning, will also receive $5,000, a prize from Encyclopaedia Britannica and an appearance on ABC-TV’s ″Good Morning America.″

Maria won $4,000.

During the morning session, Devin L. Wicker, 12, of Riverton, N.J., asked pronouncer Alex Cameron several questions about the word ″tautophony,″ which he had been asked to spell.

Still unsatisfied, Devin asked, ″Can I buy a vowel?″

Cameron, who teaches English at the University of Dayton, chuckled and said, ″I’m thinking about early retirement,″ but he rejected the request.

Devin spelled the word correctly, anyway, and staggered away from the microphone in amazement.

All the words spelled in the first three rounds of the bee Wednesday came from a list of 1,000 words furnished in advance to the contestants for study. But Thursday, all the words were new to the contestants and many seemed to be guessing at the correct spelling.

At one point, Jobert G. Barin, 14, of Glendale, Calif., spelled ″estufa″ and when the judges nodded their approval, he looked down and asked, ″Are you sure?″

Of the six spellers who were competing in their third national bee, only one survived Thursday morning’s session. He was Todd Erik Wallace, 13, from Blackfoot, Idaho, who correctly spelled ″isochronal.″

The competition, which began in 1925, is sponsored by Scripps Howard newspapers in 13 cities and 208 other daily, weekly and Sunday newspapers.

Previous bees have been won by 30 boys and 36 girls. The original contestants in the 1991 competition included 113 girls and 114 boys from every state except Delaware, as well as from the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Mexico and U.S. dependents’ schools overseas.

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