PB County speller doesn’t miss a word, but still out of national bee

May 30, 2019
The Palm Beach Post

Two Palm Beach County middle schoolers were eliminated from the Scripps National Spelling Bee Wednesday morning during the second round of spelling on stage. The third, the Palm Beach County regional champion, survived — only to have his goal of making it to the final 50 dashed by late afternoon.

Christa McAuliffe eighth-grader Tommy Cherry skated through both Wednesday’s early rounds, accurately spelling “pittosporum,” a shrub, and “solicitous.”

But 565 students came to this Washington suburb of National Harbor, Md., to take the stage in this days-long iconic spell-off. And what many spectators might not realize is that much of getting to the final round — the one that will be televised live nationally Thursday — has much more to do with how well you do on a written spelling and vocabulary exam the students took on the first day of the bee. The score on that test is combined with points for correct spelling in the following rounds.

When the scores were crunched, Cherry was among those to be invited to stand among the top 100 finishers on stage Wednesday afternoon, his father, Brian, reported. But when the finalists were announced, Cherry didn’t make the cut, leaving Palm Beach County without representation in the finals.

“We are going home heads held high with a top 100 finish,” Cherry’s dad said. “Not too shabby.”

Emma Chopin, a 12-year-old at Rosarian Academy, survived the first round of stand-and-spell by correctly spelling “blunderbuss” — a word once used to describe a short-barreled gun with a flared muzzle, but may be more familiar as a way to describe someone who lacks subtlety and precision.

While “inconsequentia” describes matters of no consequence, spelling it with a “c” rather than an “s” delivered a knockout blow to Chopin, ending her run for the trophy and $50,000 prize.

Seventh-grader Arik Karim also sailed through that first round correctly spelling “bancha,” a coarse Japanese tea. The Jewish ceremonial dinner known as “seder” spelled Karim’s end in the competition, when he went with an “a” as the word’s first vowel.

While Cherry earned an all-expenses paid trip to the nationals, Karim and Chopin arrived through a special invite and had to pay their own way.

The only Palm Beach County speller to win the national competition is Wendy Guey, who won in 1996 after correctly spelling “vivisepulture.” At the time, she was in seventh grade at what was is now called Bak Middle School of the Arts.

The bee’s final rounds begin at 10 a.m. Thursday and will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and continue until about a dozen spellers are standing. The competition then breaks and resumes with the finals at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

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