Missouri seventh-grader wins spelling bee

Posted: Thursday, June 01, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) - Speaking slowly but confidently, George Abraham Thampy of Maryland Heights, Mo., correctly spelled ``demarche'' - a step or maneuver - to win the 2000 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

The 12-year-old, who is schooled at home, tied for fourth in 1998 and finished in a third-place tie last year.

Spelling is not George's only talent: Last week, he placed second at the National Geography Bee, also in Washington. He won $15,000 in that contest.

In the next-to-last round, fellow seventh-grader Sean Conley of Newark, Calif., misspelled ``apotropaic'' (apotrypaic) - designed to avert evil. George then came through with ``propaedeutic,'' which means preparatory study or instruction, to survive and eliminate his final rival. That set the stage for him to get ``demarche'' right.

``It's not really the cash prizes and the trophies. It was really the words,'' said George, explaining why he returned to the spelling bee for a third time.

First prize is $10,000, an encyclopedia set and a $1,000 savings bond.

Both the runner-up and the third-place finisher, 14-year-old Alison Miller of Niskayuna, N.Y., also are educated at home.

``What makes home schooling better is that Mom and Dad allow me to be flexible,'' George said. ``I can do something else like Latin.''

Alison misspelled ``venire'' (veniery) - to draw qualified people as jurors - in the 12th round.

In the next round, both Sean and George were on the market: Sean was given ``phrontistery,'' a place for thinking or study, while George got ``ditokous,'' producing two eggs or young at a time.

George then took the title in the 15th round of the 73rd national competition that began Wednesday with 248 contestants, ages 9 to 15.

Today's championship rounds brought excitement and tension.

When official pronouncer Alex Cameron called out ``boutonniere,'' Samuel Pittman of Bakersfield, Calif., could not contain himself, clapping his hands excitedly.

``Oh, I've been waiting on this word!'' the 14-year-old said as the judges looked on with amusement. And he got it right, too.

It means a flower worn in a buttonhole.

He had barely escaped an earlier round, looking puzzled after getting ``naology''- the study of sacred edifices. ``Naology?'' he repeated before sighing into the microphone. ``N-A-O-L-O-G-Y?'' he guessed.

``Yes!'' the eighth-grader said as he pumped his fist excitedly after the judges nodded. He dropped out in the sixth round after misspelling ``girandole,'' a radiating ornamental composition.

There also were tears on this final day.

Rebecca Garthoff, 13, of Jefferson, Maine, began crying after being given ``golem,'' thinking she was spelling the word incorrectly. But she struggled through her tears and spelled the word correctly, getting a hearty burst of applause from the crowd. Golem, from Jewish folklore, is a robot, or human figure created by occult rites.

She eventually was eliminated in the sixth round on ``minacious,'' which means of a menacing or threatening character.

April Reynolds, 12, of Greenville, S.C., knew she was in trouble when she started ``R-I-S-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y.'' The bell rang and Cameron started explaining the word was spelled ``risibility,'' the ability or inclination to laugh. She already had begun walking off stage and almost made it to the edge when the tears started to flow.

Sometimes nervousness seemed to get in the way. Evelyn Eisele of Denver closed her eyes and then tried spelling on her hand. ``G-A-U-T-A?'' she spelled. She rolled her eyes in disgust when she found out the cheese was spelled ``Gouda.''

Also not a cheese whiz was Henry Pollock, 13, of Urbana, Ill. He was offered ``Camembert,'' a French soft cheese. ``Camumbere,'' he answered.

Offering encouragement to the young spellers was President Clinton, who is traveling in Europe.

``Regardless of who wins today, you should all be proud of your achievements,'' the president said in a recorded message played for the contestants.

First-round words were taken from a 3,500-word study booklet designed by Scripps Howard and from the word lists most sponsors use at their local bees. But for the final rounds, words are taken from Webster's Third New International Dictionary and its addenda, which contain more than 460,000 words.

The contestants, most sponsored by their local newspapers, all won regional bees to qualify. Scripps Howard, the newspaper group based in Cincinnati, coordinates the national finals and produces the word lists and study materials.

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