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National Spelling Bee Under Way

June 3, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It was a nerve-wracking day of spelling for Jason Espiritu, one of 104 young people who advanced to the final competition today of this year’s national spelling bee.

First he faced the word ``verisimilitude,″ a noun meaning something that appears real. It has seven _ count them, seven _ vowels. Then the judges accidentally sounded the elimination bell when he correctly spelled ``operatable.″

``It really shook me. They rang the bell, but it was right,″ said Jason, a 13-year-old speller from Tamuning, Guam.

His third word on Wednesday was ``encaustic,″ a paint mixed with beeswax. That one stumped him for four minutes, two seconds.

``Could you say it slowly?″ he asked official pronouncer Alex Cameron, who finally got up, walked to the middle of the stage and pronounced the word just inches from Jason’s face.

``This is a noun?″ Jason asked.

He was stalling. He knew he was testing the judges’ patience so he gave it a shot.

``E-n-c-a-u-s-t-i-c,″ he said. He waited for the bell to ring. When it didn’t, Jason thrust both arms in the air in victory.

The 72nd annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee began with 249 spellers. After the first day of competition Wednesday, 104 spellers were still in the running for the $10,000 first-place cash prize. The winner also gets encyclopedias, two airline tickets and computer software.

Some of the 9- to 15-year-old contestants, all wearing white polo shirts, spelled with their hands stuffed deep in their pockets. Others gazed at the ceiling for inspiration. When they sat waiting their turn to spell, they yawned, examined the bottoms of their tennis shoes, twirled hair and fidgeted with yellow numbered placards hung around their necks.

Kyle Trujillo, one of two 9-year-olds in the contest and, ironically, from Tuba City, Ariz., missed ``sousaphone.″ He spelled it ``suziphone.″ Michael Bogobowicz, 13, of Naples, Fla., was tripped up by the double ``m″ in the word ``megohmmeter.″

Michael Dechert, 11, of Rock Island, Ill., had trouble with the pronunciation of the word ``bildungsroman,″ a German literary term.

``Can you repeat that please?″ he asked.

``I hope,″ the pronouncer said.

When he misspelled it, Michael threw his head back and slumped slowly off the stage.

Ashley White, 13, of Washington, D.C., breathed hard, held her stomach and then her head before she successfully spelled ``lycanthrope,″ a word meaning werewolf. Three spellers later, Ashley was still holding her head in her hands.

She got her second word right too, but then misspelled ``ecclesiastical.″

``I think it was my time to get out. I thought I was going to faint,″ Ashley said after the day’s competition.

Parents were nervous too.

During a break in the competition, Cathy Saylor of Hillsborough, N.C., hurriedly snapped a photograph of her 11-year-old daughter, Frances Taschuk, and gave her a hug. ``She said she’s nervous. How could you not be?″ Ms. Saylor said.

On Wednesday, Scripps Howard, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based newspaper group that coordinates the national finals, announced that Jamaica, home of the 1998 champ, will return to the competition next year. Spellers from Jamaica were banned this year because a local qualifying contest was held too early. The contestant from Jamaica will be sponsored next year by The Gleaner, a daily newspaper in Kingston, Jamaica.

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