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Jamaican Girl Wins Spelling Bee

May 29, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Through 10 rounds of high-pressure spelling, Jody-Anne Maxwell’s exceedingly polite, emotionless manner stood out as much as her soft Jamaican accent.

But as she began sounding her way through the final word of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee _ C-H-I-A-R-O-S-C-U-R-I-S-T _ her lips betrayed the first hint of a smile. When she was pronounced champion, Jody-Anne’s reserve disappeared into a grin, shout and gleeful arm-waving befitting a victorious 12-year-old.

She became the first winner from outside the United States in the bee’s 71-year history.

The contest is open to contestants from any country, but only a handful come from outside the United States. On the podium Thursday, Jody-Anne was immediately surrounded by 13 friends and relatives who traveled with her, many waving the green, black-and-gold flag of her home, Jamaica.

She said she would share the $10,000 and other prizes with Bettina McLean, 12, and Haydee Maria Lindo, 11, who also represented Jamaica and who shared Jody-Anne’s spelling coach, Rev. Glen O.J. Archer. Haydee was eliminated in the first round; Bettina fell in the seventh.

``Mr. Archer coached everybody. But, as you know, only one person can win. And God happened to just choose me,″ she said as she stood beside a trophy half as tall as she is.

Jody-Anne conquered ``cerography″ (writing with wax), ``allargando″ (a musical direction) and ``daedal″ (ingeniously formed) among others. After spelling ``chiaroscurist″ (an artist who works in lights and darks), she held her breath, waiting for the bell that would signal a mistake. Instead, there was applause.

The secret of her success? ``God and training,″ she said.

Amid the 249 contestants, aged 9 to 15, who began the bee Wednesday morning, the super-composed seventh-grader from Ardenne High School in Kingston stuck out from the start. ``I had a lot of jitters but I was trying to keep focused and calm so no one would notice,″ she said.

``Dr. Cameron, please,″ she politely began each request as she asked pronouncer Alex J. Cameron to use a word in a sentence, give its definition, please pronounce it again. Nearly every speller in the final rounds asked for similar clues.

Prem Murthy Trivedi, 12, finished second _ just as he did last year.

It was his last shot at the title of champion speller, because the contest is only open to eighth-graders and younger. Trivedi, of Lakewood Preparatory School in Howell, N.J., was felled by ``prairillon,″ which means a small prairie or meadow.

The third-place finisher was 13-year-old Hirsh Sandesara, also an eighth-grader, from Maple School in Northbrook, Ill. He was eliminated by ``maieutic,″ a teaching method practiced by Socrates.

Most contestants smiled, if regretfully, when they left the stage after misspelling a word, and the parent or escort who simultaneously got up from a seat in the audience often looked more downtrodden than the failed speller.

As the competition wore on, many of the participants applauded each other spontaneously. Some boys traded high-fives after a particularly tough word, and some spellers chatted among themselves between turns at the microphone. Many laughed when given words they never knew existed.

There were several long, tortured moments of silence, when a speller’s slowly moving lips portrayed an indecisiveness born of confusion or frustration.

``You’ve got to remember how young they are,″ pronouncer Cameron said.

Most of the contestants in the 71st annual bee were sponsored by newspapers in the United States or its territories. But some came courtesy of English-language papers abroad, including from Mexico, the Bahamas and Europe. Jody-Anne and the other Jamaicans were sponsored by the Phillips & Phillips Stationery Supplies company, because there was no newspaper to sponsor them.

``Jamaica is not just a land of nice white beaches,″ Phillips & Phillips manager Maurice C. Thompson said. ``We also have young children who have, shall I say, spunk, excitement, pizzazz.″

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