Semifinals get under way at National Spelling Bee

By Joseph White

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 2 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

Emily Keaton, 12, from Louisville, Ky., looks down after spelling 'sciamachy' incorrect during the semifinals of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, June 2, 2011.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

OXON HILL, Md. — The long journey to Scripps National Spelling Bee champion reached the homestretch Thursday morning under the bright lights of national television.

Among the new features at this year's bee: The semifinalists get to see ESPN's feature profiles on a big screen as they're airing on television. Grace Remmer of St. Augustine, Fla., giggled as she watched herself enjoying Disneyworld — then calmed down and approached the microphone, where she correctly spelled "anaphylaxis."

Forty-one spellers advanced to the semis of the 84th edition of the bee after two days of competition that whittled the field down from 275. The winner, who receives more than $40,000 in cash and prizes, was scheduled to be crowned Thursday night.

Among those still in contention were two finalists from last year, Joanna Ye of Carlisle, Pa., and Laura Newcombe of Toronto.

The first 11 competitors in the semifinals spelled their words correctly. The first to hear the dreaded elimination bell was 12-year-old Emily Keaton of Pikeville, Ky., who left the "c'' out of "sciamachy," a noun that means fighting with a shadow. She missed the word after watching as she described herself as a "dynamo" on ESPN.

The speller with the most commanding stage presence continued to be Surjo Bandyopadhyay of Lusby, Md., who heard the medical word "lysozyme" and blurted out: "May I please have all the information on this word?"

He shifted his eyes and nodded his head as he listened to the definition, origin and a sentence — then spelled it correctly.

The semifinalists reflected an array eclectic interests. Anna-Marie Sprenger of Provo, Utah, has a passion for ballroom dancing. Samuel Estep of Berryville, Va., designs games on his calculator. Mashad Arora of Brownsville, Texas, has built and raced a hydrogen fuel cell car. David Krak of Lititz, Pa., plays Gershwin on the piano. Nicholas Rushlow of Pickerington, Ohio, is a competitive swimmer and violinist. Parker Strubhar of Piedmont, Okla., has been to 29 states and wants to make it to all 50 before he graduates from high school. Anja Beth Swoap is known as the "scarf queen" in her hometown of Edina, Minn., because she has such of large collection of the fashionable neckwear.

Wednesday was the day all of the spellers ages 8 to 15 from across the United States and around the world took turns in the spotlight, getting to spell two words without the fear of being dinged off stage by the bell. Their scores were combined with a 25-word written test to determine the semifinalists.

The words ranged from amusing ("harrumph" and "ballyhooed") to obscure ("usufructuary" and "febrifugal"). Pronouncer Jacques Bailly helped ease the tension by turning example sentences into punch lines, such as: "In the days after the Spelling Bee, I watched it over and over again to hear the sound of my own mellisonant voice" and "If Nathan's plan to achieve world hegemony through Twitter was going to succeed, he was going to need more than 15 followers."

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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