St. Mary student advances to Scripps National Spelling Bee

March 07, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

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    HAGERSTOWN -- The number 13 turned out to be lucky for Jessica Swarner during Saturday's 30th annual Washington County Spelling Bee at Western Heights Middle School.

    Despite going 13th in the order, the 13-year-old from St. Mary Catholic School won the event among eighth-graders. As a result, she advanced to the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 26 to 28 in Washington, D.C.

    Jessica spelled "preemptive" in the eighth round of the spelling bee to defeat her longtime rival, Tristan Prejean of Heritage Academy. Tristan was the winner in his class each of the last two years.

    "I didn't know if there was one 'e' or two," Jessica said. "I just took a shot."

    Jessica said she had a pocketful of good luck charms heading into the competition.

    Among those charms was a necklace that Jessica's father gave her in the fourth grade.

    "He was at work and couldn't be here," Jessica said.


Fifty-eight children in grades six through eight were invited to participate in the event, which was sponsored by The Herald-Mail. To qualify, they had to be one of the winners or runners-up in previous spelling bees at their respective schools.

Elta Clarke of Northern Middle School was the sixth-grade champion and Joanne Lee of Smithsburg Middle School took the seventh-grade crown.

Joanne, who won among sixth-graders last year, said she took a guess spelling "camphor" to advance to the final round.

She kept her head on her shoulders and easily spelled "guillotine" for the win.

"It was a relief," Joanne said, adding she probably would put her trophy on a bookshelf.

Each of the winners also won an online subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica, a dictionary and a $20 gift certificate to

The longest spell-off of the day belonged to the sixth-graders.

Clarke and Carter Tacelosky of Springfield Middle School battled back and forth for 10 rounds to determine a champion after the rest of the field had bowed out.

The pronouncer threw words at them like "anschluss" and "railroadiana."

"I didn't even know that was a word," Elta said after the competition. "I should have asked for the definition."

Elta said she used Spell Check to prepare for the spelling bee and plans to compete again next year as a seventh-grader.

Only the winner of the eighth-grade competition advances to the national spelling bee.

The following were some of the words spelled Saturday during the 30th annual Washington County Spelling Bee.

o Anschluss -- German term designating the incorporation of Austria into Germany in the 1930s

o Railroadiana -- refers to artifacts of currently or formerly operating railways around the world

o Diphthong -- a unitary vowel that changes quality during its pronunciation

Definitions courtesy of

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