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Spelling Bee Opens With 21 Right Answers

May 28, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The 76th Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee began Wednesday with a streak of 21 consecutive youngsters failing to make a mistake.

Eighty-seven of 124 spellers cleared the first half of the first round. The remaining 127 entered the stage as the round headed toward its noon EDT end.

Among the words correctly spelled by contestants were ``affenpinscher,″ ``formicivorous″ and ``papillote.″

Anjay Ajodha, the youngest national spelling finalist in at least 25 years, asked for his word to be pronounced, defined and used in a sentence. Then came just the humming of a microphone.

Finally, the 8-year-old took his shot at ``deipnosophist.″ Anjay, who attends school in Pearland, Texas, nailed it, sighing and smiling along with the audience.

Jodie Singer, a sixth-grader from Washington, D.C., anxiously awaited her turn at the microphone.

``I know people are expecting a lot,″ Jodie said before the contest. ``I know I’m probably not going to win _ I’m not. But other people who have no clue how hard the nationals are, how hard the words are, they think I’m a really good speller. They think I’ll do really well. It’s a lot of pressure.″

Last year, it took 11 rounds to declare a winner.

This year’s spellers range in age from 8 to 15, although most are 13 and in eighth grade. The majority, 167, attend public school. Nineteen have at least one sibling who participated previously in a national bee. The winner’s main prize will be $12,000, and all other spellers will receive cash awards based on performance.

As for Jodie, on her way to the finals she practiced a 500-word list so much that she could spell many words after hearing one syllable. The sheet went wherever she did, including on a trip to the ice rink, where her mom, Carrie, quizzed her as they put on skates.

After winning the District of Columbia contest in March, Jodie stopped spelling for two weeks, a break she now regrets. ``Oculogyric,″ ``dolichoid,″ ``serrulate″ _ the words stacked up.

So the practice returned, at home and at school, around Hebrew school, dance class, Girl Scouts, homework and, naturally, ``American Idol.″

One day, while her 5-year-old brother Adam napped, Jodie breezed through her words. Then came ``fomorian.″

Head in hand, eyes closed, she concentrated.

``Is it a ph?″ she said. ``Is it an f?″

Such trial and error won’t be allowed on stage. A speller may ask, however, for a word’s definition, pronunciation and other relevant clues. The best spellers are word detectives, not memorizers, said 1981 champ and bee Director Paige Kimble.

``By the time you get to the national finals, you can take it to the bank that you’re going to get words you haven’t seen before,″ Kimble said.

Jodie, who relies heavily on memorization, knows that. Still, she’s covering as many words as possible. ``It’s better to know a lot of words a little than a little words a lot,″ she said.

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On the Net:

Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee: http://www.spellingbee.com/