Last speller standing

March 15, 1997|By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

Washington County middle school students managed to avoid vellication Saturday afternoon as they tackled a cavalcade of grandiloquent words.

If you think words like vellication, cavalcade and grandiloquent are difficult to understand in the sentence above, try standing up and spelling them in front of an auditorium full of people.

That's precisely what the 65 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders had to do Saturday at the 18th annual Washington County Spelling Bee sponsored by the Herald-Mail Co.

When each grade's contest was only the winner remained on stage.

Alfred E. "A.J." Smith Jr., 13, of St. Mary's School, beat 21 other eighth-graders by correctly spelling "exterminated" after a grueling 10 rounds.


"You are the champ," announced Head Judge B. Marie Byers, president of the Washington County Board of Education.

Smith, the son of Al and Vivienne Smith of Canterbury Drive, will represent Washington County in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee May 25-31 in Washington, D.C.

Smith won the expenses-paid trip, courtesy of the Herald-Mail, He also won a trophy and Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary.

All the students competing Saturday had finished first or second in spelling bees at their home schools.

Mark Widmeyer, 12, of Northern Middle School, took first place among the 21 seventh-graders competing by correctly spelling "sediment" after the fifth round.

"I just try my hardest," he said after the awards ceremony. "I knew how to spell it. I was just really scared. I was nervous. I was shaking all over."

Widmeyer, the son of Sally and John Widmeyer Jr. of Glendale Drive, got a trophy, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia on CD-ROM and a gift certificate from Scripps Howard.

Margaret Biser, 11, of Smithsburg Middle School, overcame 21 other sixth-graders after 11 rounds.

Biser, the daughter of David and Barbara Biser of Clopper Road, won a trophy, the Bookman Advanced Thesaurus and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

The competition was tense at times, accompanied by occasional gasps when a contestant tripped over a spelling. Cheers could be heard when a student triumphed over a particularly difficult word.

In the final two rounds of the eighth-grade competition, Smith and Byron Chiu, 13, of Boonsboro Middle School, fought for the top position after each misspelled a word.

Writing a page of words twice a week and giving up recess for two weeks to practice really helped him win, Smith said.

Even so, he was still surprised he correctly spelled "olfactometry" in the ninth round, Smith said.

This was the third year Smith competed in the county spelling bee and the first time he won, his mother said. Three of his teachers and his principal, Sister Maria Goretti, were on hand to witness his victory.

Sixth-grader Biser called it the "most fierce" spelling competition she had ever been in.

She and Brett Morrell, of St. Mary's School, were locked in a two-person competition for several rounds.

First Biser stumbled over the spelling of "equilibrist" but then Morrell misspelled "axiom."

Then Morrell put an extra l in "valiantly" and Biser misspelled "portentous."

Finally, Morrell added an extra c to "ricotta" and Biser won by correctly spelling both "parody" and "vulnerable."

"I was nervous but I kind of expected to (win) all along. I just have a lot of confidence," Biser said. "I read a lot and when I don't know a word I ask someone or I look it up."

For those who found the word vellication unfamiliar, it means the act of twitching Cavalcade is a procession, and grandiloquent means marked by a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous or bombastic style.

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