Correction to This Article
In some editions, this story incorrectly identified a contestant in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Isabel Jacobson, not Isabel Jackson, was the only girl among the last seven finalists. This version has been corrected.

The Sweet Spell of Success

Evan M. O'Dorney, 13, left, of Walnut Creek, Calif., defeated Nate Gartke, 13, of Edmonton, Alberta, in the 80th Scripps bee, spelling "serrefine" correctly. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007

One was only 11 and the oldest topped out at 14, but many of these kids had been here before. They knew the white-hot intensity of the competition, the absurdity of some of the words they were being asked to spell on national television and the warm applause that inevitably burst from the crowd when they got them right.

Most of the 15 finalists in this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee were a seasoned crew. And that, in the end, might have helped propel Evan M. O'Dorney, 13, who has taken to eating tuna sandwiches from Subway for good luck each of the three times he has been in the finals, to victory last night.

Evan, an eighth-grader from Walnut Creek, Calif., exuded confidence as he faced the only other contestant still standing, Nate Gartke, 13, of Edmonton, Alberta. First, Evan spelled "Zoilus." Nate, a musician who is a member of a curling team, countered by correctly spelling "vituline." The Canadian gave a thumbs-up as a half-dozen of his nation's flags waved from the audience at the District's Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Two rounds later, after Evan easily ticked off "pappardelle," a pasta, and "yosenabe," a one-pot Japanese meal, Nate faltered on "coryza."

Still, Evan had to get the next word, "serrefine," a clamp used during surgery. He nailed it. Then he just stood on the stage, smiling, as fellow spellers and their family members raced up to hug him.

The thing is, Evan said in a media conference afterward, he doesn't even like spelling.

"It's just a bunch of memorization," he said. He prefers math and music. For his efforts, Evans wins $35,000 and a $5,000 scholarship, among other things.

The 80th annual bee began Wednesday with nearly 300 students traveling from across the country; some also came from Europe, Guam, Jamaica, American Samoa and New Zealand. Three finalists were from Canada.

All had qualified for the national competition by winning local bees. There were 147 girls and 139 boys, ranging from 10 to 15 years old.

Earlier yesterday, three students from the Washington region who had made it to the semifinals gave it their best shot.

The words typically got tougher to pronounce and easier to mess up in each round. So when Izaak Baker of the Prince Frederick area of Virginia was stuck with "meliodosis" -- a description of a type of infection -- in Round 5, it was understandable that he blurted out: "Meli-what?"

But he managed to recite each letter correctly and was so thrilled that he buckled at the knees.

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