WASHINGTON -- An eighth-grader from Wisconsin outspelled 227 other youngsters in the 64th annual National Spelling Bee, winning the event in extra rounds by properly spelling the word antipyretic.
Joanne Lagatta, 13, of Clintonville, Wis., won the contest Thursday after facing off for 90 minutes with Maria Mathew, 11, of Sterling, Ill. The two battled each other coolly and with grace through 17 rounds, with Lagatta ending the contest with the proper spelling of antipyretic, meaning a drug that prevents fever.
Each tripped on several words that they clearly had never heard before. For example, Joanne misspelled oolemma, a membrane surrounding an egg, while Maria was lost on urushiye, a Japanese color print.
At a news conference, Lagatta said she does not study a certain amount of hours each day or read a dictionary like other contestants. 'Whenever I see a new word I remember it,' she said, adding she is an avid reader and does not have a career choice right now.
The contest came down to four top spellers, who, with their families, will meet President Bush at the White House Friday.
The third and fourth best spellers in the bee were Todd Wallace, 13, of Blackfoot, Idaho, and Eric Herman, 12, of Hightstown, N.J. Because of new rules instituted this year, officials were unable to immediately determine the boys' ranking or precisely how much each will win.
For being No. 1, Lagatta wins $5,000 and an interview on ABC-TV's Good Morning America, while No. 2 speller Mathew wins $4,000.
The record 227 children, ages 10-15, participated in the annual exercise that brings tears, fits of frustration, raised clenched fists and other body language indicating victory or defeat.
'These words are ridiculous,' declared Matthew Trask, 12, of Elm Springs, S.D., who wiped out by misspelling 'mesoseismal.' He thought it was 'mesosizmal.'
'I live in South Dakota. So I'd never, ever, use these words,' he said. 'But they are a challenge to spell, I guess.'
Devin Wicker, 12, of Riverton, N.J., was clearly stumped when asked to spell 'tautophony.' 'Can I buy a vowel?' he inquired of the judges. He finally spit out the proper spelling and moved on in the competition.
Daniel Snyder, 13, of Marion, Ind., didn't know whether he correctly spelled 'dolabrate.' At first the judges said he provided the correct spelling, then hit the buzzer indicating a mistake and later decided to listen to an audiotape twice of his spelling, which was finally ruled correct. The happy speller was greeted at his seat by several high-fives from fellow competitors.
Of all the participants, 113 were girls and 114 were boys representing 47 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Department of Defense and State Department schools in Western Europe, Egypt and North Africa.
Contestants having difficulty with a word tried just about anything possible to help shed some light on the spelling. They asked the judges for the word's definition, its root, its language of origin, an alternative pronunciation and its use in a sentence.
Kenneth Mitchell II, 11, of Washington, D.C., said the competition has helped him learn the spelling and definition of new words.
Sonya Karl, 14, Poteau, Okla., spoke for most of the contestants when asked to name the worst thing about the competition.
'The wait. You're sitting there wondering what in the world they're going to ask me to spell,' she said.