She got the definition. Then she asked a few more questions, including one about alternate pronunciations. Then, Edith crushed it.
“T-A-P-A-S,” said Edith. “Tapas.”
Still, though. Edith, a home-schooled student from Oklahoma who qualified for the bee when she was just 5, stood up there on a really big stage and spelled “tapas.” Edith is doing okay, even though she won’t be this year’s spelling champion.
In total, 40 bright young spellers have advanced to Thursday’s final at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland. They included Saketh Sundar, 11, of Maryland, and Tejas Muthusamy, 14, from Virginia.
The whole thing promises to be very dramatic, because how could it not be? But first: the prelims. That’s why parents, siblings and sweeping cameras, there to capture the drama and the glory, filled a hushed convention center ballroom on Wednesday.
Off to one side of the stage, where competitors sat waiting for their turn, was a trophy, golden and gleaming. On the other side was a gray couch, where defeated spellers flopped down after a bell dinged, signaling that they have botched a word.
As the spellers stood before the mic, there were questions about the language of origin, definitions, pronunciations and repetitions and please, can they have that in a sentence? Also, are there any other alternate pronunciations? Some spelled words out on their hands. Some took a while.
R-h-u-b-a-r-b. Good for pies. Bad for bees.
Daniel Healy, 11, couldn’t tackle “pontifical,” a whoopsies that appeared to leave him gutted. At least he sure seemed gutted during a post-spell interview conducted with a reporter who grossly underestimated the damage done on the ballroom stage. Sorry, Daniel.
(Now would be a good time to note that I have copy-and-pasted every single hard word in this story. Including pontifical. Carry that with you, Daniel, and all the others. No matter what happens, you can always out-spell me.)
There were success stories on the stage, too: Harshita Shet, a 13-year-old from New York state, nailed “turmeric,” and Zach Swyers, a 14-year-old who was also from New York, knew “welterweight.” Leela Waterford, a 13-year-old from Hawaii, got “advolution,” then watched as Kendal Win, 12, of North Carolina, knocked out “architectonic.”
“Instigate. Okay,” Anna-Livia Regan, 14, of Portland, Ore., said, after receiving her word. “Can I have all of the relevant information?”
She then added: “Just, like, all of it.”
For real, just like, all of it, Dr. Bailly. Anna eventually spelled her word correctly and stayed on the stage.
Therese Ostermann’s 12-year-old son, Nathan, missed “dietetic,” a word she thought he’d get. Still, she said she was happy that her son had his opportunity.
After Nathan was eliminated, Ostermann said she tried to reassure her son what an “awesome kid” he is. It doesn’t matter, she said, whether he spelled “dietetic” or not.
“You always hope for the best,” said Ostermann,“ but you always know that anything is possible.”