Speller stung by 'nephalism' at national bee

May 31, 2002|by TARA REILLY

One of the highlights Thursday for Usama Qadri was being on national television, the 14-year-old Washington County Public Schools student said after bowing out of the 75th Annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

Usama, an eighth-grader at Smithsburg Middle School, was eliminated for the competition when he misspelled "nephalism" during the fourth round of the competition.

"I'm just happy I got this far," Usama said shortly after leaving the stage. "I just wanted to get past Round Two and to be on ESPN."


The bee was held at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. The Herald-Mail sponsored Usama in the event.

Pratyush Buddiga, a 13-year-old seventh-grader from Colorado Springs, Colo., won the championship Thursday afternoon by correctly spelling "prospicience."

Usama showed little emotion as he walked off stage after he was eliminated from the competition, but his father said his son cracked a smile backstage.

"He took it very positive," his father, Anwar Qadri, said. "He smiled."

His father said he immediately congratulated his son for his strong showing in the bee.

"I had prepared him to lose," Anwar Qadri said. "Some people have to lose and some people have to win. We're proud of him."

By making it to the fourth round, Usama was one of the top 58 spellers in the country.

The competition began Wednesday with 250 students. ESPN broadcast most of Thursday's competition.

Usama, who stood upright in front of the microphone with his hands at his side, calmly asked the bee's pronouncer for the definition of nephalism, the word's origin and to use it in a sentence.

Though nearly pulling it off, he incorrectly replaced the "a" in nephalism with an "o."

Nephalism is a noun of Greek origin that means total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, according to Webster's Third New International Dictionary.

Earlier Thursday, Usama breezed through the word "ribald" to advance to the televised round.

Ribald is a noun that means a person course or lewd in appearance, speech, writing or thought; or an adjective that means marked by coarseness or indecency.

Usama's trip to the nation's capital gained him fans in Washington County.

"I'm thrilled about it," Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said. "It's something that's not only a feather in the cap of the student, but also the school system."

"It's awesome," she said. "It doesn't matter that he wasn't crowned the champion. He's still a winner."

Carol Mowen, the Washington County Board of Education's public information officer, said central office employees watched Usama compete on television. His principal, teachers and fellow students at Smithsburg Middle School also tuned in.

"I bet at least half of the school was watching," said Adair Eves, Usama's language arts teacher.

Eves said Usama worked hard to perfect his gift for spelling.

"Usama did all this on his own," she said. "He received no coaching from me. He is very self-motivated and independent."

His friends, Ryan Marx and Sean O'Neal, said they were excited as they watched their classmate compete.

"It was cool," Ryan, 14, said. "I haven't seen a friend on TV before."

"It was really interesting. He looked so much older on TV," Sean, 14, said.

Sean said Usama had practiced many hours for the Spelling Bee and even joked about studying the dictionary.

"Then he actually started it," Sean said. "I was, like, wow."

Ryan and Sean said other students also were eager to see Usama on television.

"Everyone was just rooting for him," Ryan said.

"We're still really proud of him," Sean said. "I can't even pronounce those words."

Smithsburg Middle School Principal Robert P. Engle described Usama as a high-performing model student.

According to information provided by Scripps Howard, Usama is a straight-A student and has won academic awards. His interests include science, math, history, reading, building puzzles, trading stocks and playing basketball.

Mowen said employees at the school system's central office taped the bee for Usama so he could watch himself on television.

"We are very proud that a student from our district had such a fantastic showing at the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee," Mowen said. "To have him advance so far really speaks well of his abilities as a speller."

Usama won $200, a commemorative Spelling Bee watch and a $100 savings bond.

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