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Hancock boy competes in national spelling bee

May 30, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- He watched some girls grab their hair, and a few boys sigh in frustration.

For more than an hour, he sat in the back row calmly, with his hands folded over one another.

Charles Smith was not worried.

The Hancock Middle-Senior High School student knew the words the other children were being asked to spell.

Gosling. Rew. No problem, he thought.

Though, he admitted, he was a bit nervous. After all, it was the 13-year-old's first time competing in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Two hundred and eighty-eight students -- the largest number of spellers in the event's history -- competed in the first round Thursday in Washington, D.C.

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Charles, an eighth-grader from Hancock, was not among the 90 spellers who advanced beyond the preliminary round Thursday. Charles, who won the Washington County bee in March, was sponsored by The Herald-Mail.

Jessica Shakesprere, 11, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., also failed to move past the preliminary round. She is a sixth-grader at Country Day School in Kearneysville, W.Va.

Charles, who was speller No. 118, sat patiently, sometimes fidgeting, while others took their turns Thursday.

As speller No. 114 correctly spelled "quandary," he hunched over. When No. 115 went to the microphone to spell "ethanol," Charles stood for the first time, taking a deep breath and staring straight ahead.

As No. 116 misspelled "brigadier," Charles wiggled his legs and clasped his hands. When No. 117 was up, Charles straightened his glasses and pressed his lips together.

Scanning his competitors and spelling their words in his head, Charles thought he was set.

Then he heard his word -- "onomasticon."

While other spellers took the full 2 minutes and 30 seconds allotted, tapping their feet and mouthing the words to themselves, Charles took only seconds to give his answer. He didn't ask for the definition, to hear the word in a sentence or for the language of origin, as some spellers did.

"A-u-n-i-m-o-s-t-i-c-a-u-n," he spelled.

That quickly, his day was over.

Charles spelled 14 of 25 words correctly on a written spelling test he took earlier in the competition. Those spellers with a combined score of at least 20 moved on to the final rounds.

"I should have studied more," Charles said. "I'd never heard that word. Who says onomasticon?"

Charles was at the Scripps National Spelling Bee with his parents, Glen and Kim Smith. Glen Smith said they encouraged him to study and printed some study materials for him from the Internet.

Charles said he studied simply by looking at words, and once he felt that the knew them, he wrote them down from memory. If he was right, he ate a cookie.

Since he didn't study very much, he didn't eat very many cookies, he said.

Proud

Although he did not advance, Charles said he was proud that he made it so far.

Charles was competing against a group of spellers that included 164 other eighth-graders. Fifty-seven of the students had competed in the national bee at least once before, and two were back for the fifth time.

Both Charles and Jessica were at the national event for the first time.

Jessica was asked to spell "nectar" during the preliminary round Thursday. She got it right, but her score on the written spelling test was not high enough to move her into later rounds of competition.

The spellers and their families have been in Washington, D.C., since Monday for several events leading up to the competition.

On Monday, Glen Smith said he took his family on a walk to see the White House and other Washington sites, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Charles said he enjoyed seeing U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's motorcade leaving the White House.

"My favorite thing has been the barbecue," Charles said. "It was really, really good food."

Charles also toured the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is part of the National Air and Space Museum near Washington Dulles International Airport. He said he was able to watch planes take off and land there, and enjoyed the trip.

For making it to the national bee, Charles and Jessica will receive a commemorative watch from Scripps, a new dictionary, a $100 savings bond and $50 in cash.

If you watch



What: The Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

When: The semifinals air live on ESPN from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. The championship finals air live on ABC from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday.

Details: For more information, go to www.spellingbee.com.

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