An article in the Metro section yesterday incorrectly reported the third- and fourth-place finishers in the District's spelling bee. Martanya Nelson of Jefferson Junior High School finished third and Ronald Benson-El of Browne Junior High School placed fourth. CAPTION: Picture, D.C. Spelling bee winner Daphne Gaither and Adam Feinstein, who was second. Copyright (c) by Photonetworking

Daphne Gaither performed like a winner throughout the District's citywide spelling bee yesterday. And in the end, after 11 other competitors were disqualified for misspelling such words as "sauciness," "pantaloonery" and "rescind," Gaither proved herself the best, winning first place with the word "patzer."

A patzer is an inferior chess player, and the word is believed to have come from Yiddish, possibly a derivative of the word patsy.

Throughout most of the competition, Gaither, 13, who won second place in last year's competition behind Ronald Benson-El, held her head high, smiled and beamed with self-assurance.

The harder the words became, the quicker she spelled them, making it seem so easy that many parents, educators and students in the audience sighed and chuckled in disbelief.

"I knew I was going to win," she said after the competition, held before 300 at Backus Junior High School.

In fact, she was so confident that she envisioned herself accepting the championship trophy in a dream a few days ago.

Still, during the first exciting moment after her win she was jumping and shouting with joy, "Am I dreaming or is this for real?"

An eighth-grader at Evans Junior High School in far Northeast, Gaither is the ninth of 10 children and is in a program for gifted and talented students.

She will represent Washington at the National Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Scripps-Howard newspaper company and held annually in the District in June.

Several hundred students from the District's public and private schools had competed in a series of spelling contests around the city over the past several weeks. The winners of those matches competed in the finals yesterday under the sponsorship of the Washington Informer, a community newspaper.

Adam Feinstein, 12, a sixth-grader at Murch Elementary School in upper Northwest, placed second. Last year's winner, Benson-El, 13 and a seventh-grader at Browne Junior High School in Northeast, was third, and Martanya Nelson, a seventh-grader at Jefferson Junior High School in Southwest, was fourth.

After two-thirds of the competitors were eliminated, Gaither, Feinstein, Benson-El and Nelson battled, making minutes seem like hours.

The judges said that Feinstein spelled "thixotropy" incorrectly, but after an immediate protest by his father, the judges found the spelling had been correct. Feinstein continued in the competition.

Gaither, an honor roll student, credits her victory to the three hours a day she spent studying dictionaries and other resources provided by Scripps-Howard.

"She even took the school's unabridged dictionary home with her," said Principal Margaret Saxon.

In addition, Gaither, who wants to be a pediatrician or an electrical engineer, won a set of encyclopedias, $500 and a four-day stay at the hotel where the national competition will be held.

"She worked hard for this," said her mother, Kathryn Gaither.

"She studied day and night. Sometimes, she'd study until she fell asleep."