OXON HILL, Md. – The onstage portion of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee began Wednesday morning, with 283 regional champions competing for more than $37,000 in cash and prizes. Here are some memorable moments from the preliminary rounds.
During the first preliminary round Wednesday morning, 283 kids spelled words — and 279 spelled correctly. The words included "fidelity," ''flamboyant," ''mirage," ''llama" and "analysis."
The words for the first onstage round — technically round two of the bee; round one is a written test — are taken from a list of about 600 words that's also used in school and regional-level bees. That gives participants ample opportunity to study and memorize.
"We like the opportunity to give every speller the chance to shine onstage," said Paige Kimble, the bee's executive director. "I think what happened this morning is terrific."
Round three words are slightly tougher, and spellers have less time to master them — they are given the list after winning their regional bees.
Jacob Williamson, a popular former speller who finished in seventh place last year and is back this year as a spectator, thinks that's where the national bee should start.
"Round two has to go. It's pointless," he said. "I'd make the round three list twice as big and use it for both rounds."
PRONOUNCER'S DAY JOB
Jacques Bailly, the official pronouncer who recites droll sentences that include the quizzed words, is the face of the National Spelling Bee. But the day job for the man the kids refer to as "Dr. Bailly" is quite different — he's an associate professor of classics at the University of Vermont.
"They complement each other perfectly," Bailly said. "The reason why we can have a spelling bee is because English has words from Greek, Latin, French and Old English. Those are four systems of spelling that are present in English, interfering with each other. ... The Greek and Latin, that's what I teach. I teach etymology, and that's essentially teaching the meaning of those words in the spelling bee."
Bailly is tenured and says he'll probably stay at Vermont forever. He also has no plans to give up his role with the bee.
"When I got the job at UVM, I already had this, and I told them this is something I intend to keep doing as long as Scripps will have me," he said.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
Matthew Ross of Orleans, Indiana, got an easy word in Round 2: "plateau." So he did Bailly's job for him.
"Plateau, as in from French?" he asked. "Like a raised area of land?"
Bailly confirmed that Matthew had the word origin and definition right before Matthew spelled the word.
"I went through all the trouble to learn the definitions," he said afterward. "I might as well recite them."
Nick Sarji of Kailua, Hawaii, represented his home state with teal-and-black Hawaiian shirt. But he wasn't up there for long. His word in Round 2 was "xylophone," and he spelled it without bothering to confirm the definition or etymology.
"I didn't want to ask for every possible question because I knew the word," 12-year-old Nick said. "That's kind of boring. I just wanted to get it over with."
Nick's trip to the Washington suburbs from Hawaii was not so smooth. His flight took him from Seattle to Atlanta to Baltimore, and the 20-hour odyssey ended with a bumpy shuttle ride. He's also had to adjust to a six-hour time difference.
"I'm tired, but I've kind of adapted," he said. On his first night in Maryland, he said, "I couldn't go to sleep until like 3 in the morning."
The microphone that spellers use can be bent, but it can't be raised or lowered. With spellers ranging in age from 9 to 15 and separated by roughly 2 feet in height, that's made for some awkward moments.
Taller spellers were forced to bend their knees or bend at the waist, and many ended up looking at the floor as they spelled.
Nine-year-old Aahil Nishad of Danbury, Connecticut, had the opposite problem — he pulled the mike down as far as possible and still appeared to be staring at the ceiling.
After spelling "mahal," Aahil walked to his seat and high-fived the next speller — 13-year-old eighth-grader Arjun Jagivan of West Hartford, Connecticut, who readjusted the microphone and still had to bend down to speak into it.
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.