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Saturday, June 02, 2007

National Spelling Bee: Cahoots and mastodon and bewusstseinslage, oh my!

WASHINGTON – After listening to his fellow contestants spell words like “cahoots” and “mastodon” during the preliminary round of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Keertan Kini stepped up to the microphone.

The Kahler Middle School seventh-grader confidently – and correctly – spelled “facilitate,” but the words were about to get much tougher.

Following the contest’s oral portion, Kini and 285 other spellers sat down to a 25-item multiple choice spelling test.

Written exam words included “syssarcosis” (the joining of bones by means of muscle) and “bewusstseinslage” (a state of consciousness).

Though Kini earned a three-point bonus for spelling correctly during the oral round, he did not earn the 18 points necessary on the exam to advance. Only 107 participants moved on to the Wednesday afternoon quarterfinals.

The competition, which has gained widespread attention thanks to ESPN coverage and movies like “Akeelah and the Bee,” puts more on the line than just intellectual bragging rights. The champion wins $35,000 in cash, a $5,000 college scholarship, a $2,500 savings bond and an Encyclopedia Britannica collection.

Eighty-two kids have taken home national spelling bee championship titles since 1925 – two have been from Indiana. The word “autochthonous” (indigenous) cinched the 2004 title for David Scott Pilarski Tidmarsh of South Bend. Another South Bend resident, Betty Robinson, won in 1928.

Thursday’s semifinals will be broadcast from 9 a.m. to noon on ESPN, and the finals will be shown at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on ABC.

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