The first round of the National Spelling Bee ended in tears for many of this year's home-schooled contestants. Fourth-grade Katie Hulmich toppled out of the competition after inadvertently swapping the vowels in 'friend,' while fifth-grade Derek Conley substituted an 'e' for the 'a' in 'secularism.'
Parent complains after fifth-grader is asked to spell 'sapphic'
By Deanna Swift,
WASHINGTON, DC—Ten-year old Katie Hulmich has spent most of the last year preparing for 79th National Spelling Bee, which finally got underway in the nation's capitol today. The pint-sized, tow-headed home-schooler has spent ten hours a day for the past eight months preparing for the spelling showdown, and can fire off twenty-five cent words from 'anastomosis' (the union or connection of branches) to 'zedoary' (the dried rhizome of a tropical Asian plant).
But the word that dashed Katie's dreams of spelling glory was a relatively simple one: 'friend.' While the Mulholland, MI, native was able to use the word in a sentence, she inadvertently confused the vowels in the noun meaning 'a person whom one knows, likes or trusts.'
"We thought we had all of the words covered, but then they pull one out of the blue like that," says Katie's mother—and full-time home spelling coach—Beverly Hulmich. "The real challenge for the kids is when they come across a word that they just don't ever use in their daily life."
'Play-mate' and other mystery words
Katie wasn't the only home-schooler to be sent, well, home after yesterday's early rounds of competition. Fourth-grader Holly Hamer of Cahokia, IL, stumbled on 'playmate,' (a companion in play or recreation); she mistakenly inserted a hyphen in the word that she admitted was unfamiliar. "I know I've seen it in a book but I just couldn't remember how to spell it," she explained.
Other home-bound casualties included Amanda Storch, a fifth grader from Nashville, TN who met her match with 'lavatory' (a room equipped with washing and toilet facilities); she mistakenly substituted an 'i' for the second 'a.' Derek Conley, a home-schooled fifth grader from Marindell, CA, saw his hopes dashed when he bungled 'secularism,' (the view that religious considerations should be excluded from public affairs and education).
Derek said that he's still kicking himself for misspelling a word that he hears his parents use so frequently. "It's one of those bad words, almost like a cuss word. I think that's why I messed it up."
Can you spell 'drrty'?
Not all of the 34 home-schoolers participating in this year's contest were bounced in the first rounds. Fifth-grader Justin Stewart of Dewey, OK, hung on till the third round before being felled by a word he'd never even heard before—let alone used in a sentence. After successfully spelling his way through 'consecrated' (made sacred or holy), 'intracutaneous' (within the skin) and 'acropetal' (developing upward toward the apex from the base), Justin met his match with 'sapphic,' meaning of or pertaining to homosexuality among women.
"I just couldn't believe it when they announced his word," says Justin's mother, Annabelle Stewart. "The whole reason we pulled him out of the public schools in the first place is so he wouldn't have to be exposed to a filthy word like that." Mrs. Stewart says that she and other mothers of home-schooled contestants are considering filing a suit against the contest's sponsor through the Home School Legal Defense Association, requiring that all words used in the contest be approved by a parents group.
"These kids work so hard to get here and then they're asked to spell words like 'sapphic' and 'secularism,'" Mrs. Stewart complains. "These are terms they shouldn't even have to see or hear, let alone spell."
Should contestants in the National Spelling Bee have to spell words that are offensive to parents with traditional values? Talk back to [email protected].