WASHINGTON -- Out of a record 226 young spellers, 155 survived Wednesday's preliminary rounds of the 63rd annual National Spelling Bee to compete in the finals, with 'irreducible' and 'thoracic' claiming the first contestants.
The participants -- 127 girls and 99 boys -- range in age from 9 to 14 and hail from 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and overseas Department of Defense schools.
Aimee Baumann, 12, of Gardnerville, Nev., was the spelling bee's first casualty, misspelling 'irreducible,' which means can't be reduced, as 'irreducable.' When the bell sounded indicating her misspelling, she had a sad blank look on her face.
Cheryl Caprio, 14, of Grand Island, N.Y., was the next contestant to trip, spelling 'thoracic,' which means the area between the neck and abdomen, as 'therassic.'
Eight young spellers were eliminated during Round 1, 33 had to leave the podium during Round 2, and 30 did not make the grade during Round 3. Words used in the three preliminary rounds -- a total of 629 -- appeared on spellers' practice lists.
Some words claiming contestants in the third round included: quercitron (inner bark), spelled as quercitrane; ipsedixitism (arbitrary statement), spelled as ipsydixitism; obmutescence (speech loss), spelled as obmyatescence; and rinceau (floral motif), spelled as ranceau.
Words selected at random from the dictionary will be used in Thursday's final rounds.
Anand Chokkavelu, 13, of Clairsville, Ohio, who survived the preliminary rounds, said he plans no more practice sessions to prepare for Thursday.
'Not unless I want to memorize the dictionary. And I don't,' he said.
The contestants have handled the competition with grace and maturity, especially in defeat. And they have been exceedingly polite. During each turn, for example, Dennis Jowers, 14, of Anderson, S.C., asked in a voice resembling John Wayne, 'May I please have the definition, sir,' and always followed up with, 'Thank you, sir.'
Melissa Lake, 14, of Denver, Colo., said the worst thing about the bee is waiting while other contestants are spelling.
'The easiest thing is when you hear a word spelled correctly. You think, whew, I knew how to spell it, too,' Melissa said.
The contestants took full advantage of the opportunity to ask for a word's definition, use of a word in a sentence, more specific pronunciation and the word's derivation to help them spell the word.
Kirsten Hanson, 13, of Carthage, Ill., had the unenviable spot as being the first contestant out of the box.
'I don't get too nervous,' Kirsten said just after the competition began, although she had hoped she would have been in the middle of the pack.
She said her daily preparation for the bee involved supplying the spelling and definition of words her mother gave her.
Though the competition is intense for the young people, some are making a return appearance to try their luck.
One contestant, Kanika Bahl, 14, of Beavercreek, Ohio, is back for a fourth try.
Those contestants remaining after Wednesday's round, will participate in Thursday's rounds, with the winner taking home $5,000.
Some of the words in the early round that failed to trip up the sharp spellers included: coquettish, meandrous, nasturtium, yachtsman, tungsten, uxorial, and poinciana.