Speller stumped by written test

May 29, 2003|By PEPPER BALLARD

After studying nearly 4,000 words to prepare for the 76th Annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, Umar Qadri delighted in spelling a familiar "aspergillosis" to make it through the initial round Wednesday morning.

But he said he was stumped on the written test by words like "currant," "atoll" and "occludent," which kept him from advancing to the final rounds of the competition.

"I'm a little disappointed," he said.

Umar, 13, an eighth-grader at Smithsburg Middle School, had advanced to the second round of the national competition by correctly spelling "aspergillosis" after asking the pronouncer for the word's definition (infection with or disease caused by molds) and its origin (Latin).


But Umar was bluffing.

He had "aspergillosis" in the bag. It was a word he had studied.

"I was just trying to picture it more vividly," said Umar, the son of Anwar Qadri and Dr. Samina Anwar.

Of 251 spellers who started the bee, 76 were eliminated in the first round. Umar, who was sponsored by The Herald-Mail, was one of 175 spellers who made it to round two, the written test.

For the written test, youngsters sat at rows of linen-covered tables in the Independence Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., watching two giant screens as the announcer pronounced and defined 25 words a few times over.

Umar, on a few occasions, ran his hands over his hair and jiggled his head.

After the written round, his father said he could see the disappointment on Umar's face. He said Umar has said before that he spells better by speaking the letters out loud as opposed to writing them down.

Bee officials introduced the written test last year as a way to speed up the contest but ensure that every student got at least one chance at the microphone.

The 84 spellers who advanced to round three missed no more than 10 of the 25 words on the written portion of the bee. Umar missed 11.

"I didn't study these words at all, and I had the book so I'm mad," he said.

Before the first round, Umar was tucked away in a corner, hidden by escalators and hotel greenery, studying his spelling bee literature, whispering spellings to himself and gazing out over the crowd filtering quietly in and out of the ballroom.

Anwar Qadri said he was praying Umar would win because he worked so hard; getting five hours of sleep Tuesday night because he couldn't put down his spelling book after watching a basketball game on television.

"Reaching this level itself is a big, big achievement," Anwar Qadri said.

His older brother, Usama, tied for 59th place at last year's national spelling bee.

Anwar Qadri said Umar had hoped to do even better this year.

"I told him that the effort is never wasted, that it will help you in the future," he said.

The competition is open to students under age 16 and those who have not passed beyond eighth grade at the time of their local competitions.

Umar qualified for the national bee by winning the Washington County Spelling Bee, sponsored by The Herald-Mail, on March 8.

Anwar Qadri said, "There are more games to win in his life and more competitions to overcome."

Kelsey Swaim, an eighth-grader in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., correctly spelled her first word and advanced to the written test. According to the National Spelling Bee Web site, Kelsey did not advance to the third round.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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