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Speller chokes on 'anecdote'

The nervous student recalls studying the word, but at the spelling bee it comes out wrong: A-N-E-C-H-D-O-T-E.

By DAVID PEDREIRA

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


TAMPA -- As Cassandra Seda tried to remember how to spell "anecdote," a lacuna loomed in her lexicographical learning.

For those of you who don't participate in spelling bees, that means she drew a blank. Cassandra, last year's runner-up in the regional finals of the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee, looked nervously at the moderator and spelled out A-N-E-C-H-D-O-T-E.

A judge rang a small steel bell. Cassandra walked from the microphone, sat down next to her family and quietly cried. Another year of studying words every day had ended without victory.

"I just can't believe it," said Cassandra, 13, an eighth-grader at Dowdell Middle School. "I remember going over that word."

As parents watched with palpable tension Saturday, 29 other sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from across the region misspelled everything from "equinox" to "bowline," until only Tampa resident Maurice Nguyen was left standing at the microphone.

Maurice, a seventh-grader from Booker T. Washington Middle School, wrapped up the victory with correct spellings of "pacifistically" and "impenetrable." He will travel to Washington, D.C., in May to compete in the national Scripps-Howard finals.

Last year's winner of the regional finals in Tampa, 14-year-old Nupur Lala, went on to win the national bee against 248 students from across the country.

Maurice, who plays soccer and tennis and wants to be either a doctor or marine biologist, summed up his drive for victory succinctly.

"If you win, you get lots of cool stuff," he said.

While there was only one victor at Saturday's event, Cassandra and the other competitors managed to correctly spell dozens of words that would flummox the average college graduate, from "circumlocution" to "apothecary."

Sponsored by The Tampa Tribune each year, the Scripps-Howard bee is more than a contest, said parents who had children in the event. It's a way for students to grasp and appreciate the complexity of the English language.

"She loves words and the meaning of words," said Judith Kiernan, whose daughter, Delilah Jewel, made it to the late rounds of Saturday's contest. "She's a writer."

Maurice outlasted Brittany Harvey, Kaitlyn Collins and Gabrielle Patrick in the final round of the bee. He won a dictionary, a computer software program and a free trip to the nation's capital.

"I think I was more nervous than he was," said his mother, Uyen Le. "I'm just very proud of him."

-David Pedreira can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or pedreira@sptimes.com.

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