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93 Stumble on Opening Day of National Spelling Bee

May 28, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The brother of last year’s winner survived the opening day of the 65th National Spelling Bee on Wednesday, but the brother of last year’s runner-up and 92 other youngsters were eliminated.

Andy Lagatta, 13 and from Clintonville, Wis., wore an appropriate smile as he opened by spelling ″witticize,″ but almost missed his second-round attempt to spell ″feculent,″ meaning ″foul with impurities or excrement.″ After the proctor pronounced the word several times, he successfully spelled it.

In the third round, he recovered to easily spell ″covetousness.″

But the fate that befell Mathew Mathew, 10 and from Sterling, Ill., was like that of others bounced in three rounds as the test administrators made the first day tougher than in past years.

Mathew had no trouble with ″asphodel,″ the name for a family of perennial herbs, in his opening effort. He then breezed through his second-round word, ″cryptonym,″ which means ″secret name.″

But in the third round, he bowed out when he misspelled ″decibel.″

Lagatta’s sister, Joanne, won last year’s competition after a grueling, 90- minute showdown with 11-year-old Maria Roshini Mathew, Mathew Mathew’s sister. The battle was not decided until 880 words had been spelled.

In part because of the length of last year’s competition, test administrators moved beyond a text called ″Words of Champions″ - which spelling bee participants study from - after the first two rounds, instead of the first three.

And the words chosen in the opening two rounds were more difficult than the ones chosen in those rounds last year.

In the initial round, 27 students were eliminated, compared with 17 last year. Students did a bit better, however, in the next round, with 17 stumbling. There were 32 students eliminated in the second round of the 1991 bee.

But in the third round - when proctors moved beyond the prepared text - 49 students were eliminated.

By day’s end, 93 participants had been eliminated, leaving 134 still in the contest. Last year, 81 were eliminated in the opening day.

The first contestant to go was Angela Colletti, a 13-year-old from Tallahassee, Fla., who failed on the word ″oppugn,″ which means ″to call into question″ or ″to fight against.″

A second-round casualty was 9-year-old Jesse McGrew of Spokane, Wash., who was unable to spell ″palimpsest,″ which means writing material on which the writing can be erased and the material reused.

McGrew, one of two 9-year-olds in the competition, asked judges to pronounce the word three times before he falteringly tried to write it with his finger on the back of his name placard while mouthing the word over and over. Finally, he began aloud, stopped and then erroneously spelled the word.

The other 9-year-old, Amanda Dawn Burke of Weber City, Va., had little trouble with ″calliopean,″ which means ″resembling the sound of a calliope.″ However, she fell in the third round, ironically failing to spell ″prodigiously.″

About 20 percent - 46 out of 227 - of the students have competed in the contest before, which is sponsored by Scripps Howard newspapers in 13 cities and 208 other daily, weekly and Sunday newspapers.

The most practiced of this year’s competitors is 14-year-old Todd Erik Wallace of Blackfoot, Idaho, who is competing for the fourth straight time. After placing third last year, he survived the first three rounds of this year’s competition.

Each of the 117 girls and 110 boys competing in the bee won local spelling contests to advance to the finals; contestants range in age from 9 to 15 and represent 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense and State Department schools in Western Europe and North Africa.

The winner will get $5,000; the runner-up, $4,000. Prize money also goes to the other finishers, totaling about $26,550.

Of the previous champions, 37 were girls and 30 were boys. Co-champions were declared three times.

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