'Fustanella' is N.Va. teen's killer bee word
Saturday, June 5, 2010
The 13-year-old walked comfortably toward the microphone early Friday afternoon, down the bright red carpet of the stage in the Grand Hyatt Washington ballroom. A video camera on a long pole followed his every step. The bright lights beat warmly on his face. The crowd clapped.
Last year, Tim Ruiter of Centreville tied for second place in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. He vowed then to study, return and win.
Wednesday he aced a first-round written test. Thursday he correctly spelled "canapé" and "paparazzo." Then came his first word in the semifinals: "fustanella."
"Fustanella," Tim slowly repeated. "Um, what does it mean?"
Tim was new to the tournament last year, but he beat out dozens of other super-spellers to make it to the final round, which is televised on ABC during prime time. Viewers rooted for the Virginia kid with shaggy brown hair and glasses, who fidgeted with his hands as he spelled such words as "oriflamme" and "sophrosyne."
But then came "Maecenas" (a generous benefactor). Tim guessed "Mycenus."
This year's competition was his last shot at the national title. In the fall, he will start his freshman year at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, after years of being home-schooled, and will no longer be eligible to take part.
To prepare, Tim studied long lists of words prepared by a family friend and used a spelling bee computer program. And then there were the 20,000 flashcards he printed out from the family's home computer.
The national bee is a celebration of something so arguably nerdy that it has become cool. For several years, ESPN has broadcast the early rounds of competition with a level of dedication and seriousness usually reserved for football, and ABC has put the final round on its prime-time broadcast. Last year, the final round attracted an average of 6.1 million viewers, according to ABC.
This year, 273 students from around the world qualified for the national round. That included nine students from Maryland, 13 from Virginia and one from the District.
Two area students were ousted in the semifinals: Tim and Sarah Anne Allen of Waynesboro, Va. Lanson T. Tang of Potomac made it to the finals. He was stumped by the word "leishmanic," an adjective that refers to the characteristics of a parasitic disease.
By the second round of the live finals, only four spellers remained. By the third and final round, Anamika Veeramani of North Royalton, Ohio, stood alone. Anamika, 14, then won the bee by correctly spelling "stromuhr," an instrument that measures the amount and speed of blood flow through an artery.