MINNESOTA teen-ager wins 2001 National Spelling Bee

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Equipped with nerves of steel and an inner dictionary that just wouldn't quit, a 13-year-old Minnesota boy won the 2001 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, surviving 16 rounds and outlasting 247 other young competitors.

Sean Conley of Anoka, Minn., who finished second in last year's contest, won by spelling ``succedaneum,'' which means, appropriately, ``one that succeeds to the place of another.''

Sean went word-for-word for five breathless rounds with Kristin Hawkins, a soft-spoken Virginia eighth-grader who, like Sean, was participating in the national bee for the third time.

Kristin coolly competed with Sean, rattling off such words as ``hamartia'' as if she were spelling her own last name. The word means ``a defect of character.''

But then she stumbled over ``resipiscence,'' meaning a change of mind or heart.

Sean will take home $10,000, while Kristin will get $5,000.

The three-day competition began Tuesday, and by the end of the fourth round, the original group of 248 spellers had shrunk to 34. Sean won in the 16th round.

It probably didn't help that the final day of competition was broadcast on live TV. In fact, as soon as the broadcast began, the first seven students misspelled their words.

The group included diminutive Sara Brand, 11, a sixth-grader from Knoxville, Tenn., who mulled over ``Australopithecus'' for so long the judges asked that she please get to the spelling. She began it with an ``O'' and never recovered.

A few minutes later, Abhijith Eswarappa, 13, of Memphis, Tenn., broke the losing streak by carefully spelling ``fimbrillate,'' a word meaning ``bordered with a minute fringe.''

Eve Vokes, a fifth-grader from San Antonio, Texas, her blonde hair pulled back into tight, matching braids, stared at the judges, her hands pinned behind her, as she puzzled over ``nisei,'' an American-born Japanese person. She spelled it ``nesae.''

Many of Thursday morning's words were smaller but no less difficult than the tongue-twisting, polysyllabic standards.

Stephen Hou, 12, of Fort Mill, S.C., missed ``arnica,'' an herb used to soothe bruises and sprains.

Apollo Stacy, 12, of Jonesboro, Ark., replaced the ``k'' in ``kudize'' with a ``ch.''

It means ``to praise'' or give someone kudos.

Melanie Kidder, 14, an eighth-grader from Bellaire, Ohio, endured nearly five minutes on stage as judges wearing headphones listened to a taped playback of her spelling ``hyoid,'' referring to bones at the base of the tongue.

Finally the head judge looked up and said, ``That's correct, Melanie,'' to cheers and applause from the crowd.

Like last year, Italian food knocked Lauren Fowler, of Fort Pierce, Fla., out of competition.

This year it was ``saltimbocca,'' a sauteed veal dish that literally means ``jumps in the mouth.'' In 2000, she missed ``biscotti.''

Lauren, a sixth-grader whose wavy blonde hair reaches to her waist, said she didn't study very hard for the competition, preferring to spend her free time playing piano and cello, singing in a church choir and studying painting.

``I just kind of try my best because I have other things that I do,'' she said.

Eleven-year-old Rebecca Clendaniel of Milford, Del., missed ``obmutescence,'' meaning keeping silent or mute. Asked what her spelling strategy is, she replied flatly, ``I guess.''

Her mother, Janet, jumped in. ``She reads a lot, so she encounters a large amount of unusual words.''