WASHINGTON – While on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee,Liam Bressler thought of one thing and one thing only: basketball.
The seventh-grader at the Community School of Naples had practiced for the bee while shooting hoops,his great love in life. As judges tossed him tricky words,he envisioned himself on the court.
And for a while,it seemed to work.
Liam correctly spelled the words ikat,a fabric design,and vaudevillian,a vaudeville performer,in the second and third rounds of the 79th annual spelling bee here in the nation's capital. After finishing the third round,Liam leaped into the air as if he were shooting a basket. His parents,who accompanied him on the trip,smiled.
“We're so proud of him,” Liam's mother,Charlotte,said after watching her son's performance.
But in the fourth round,the Naples teen tripped up on the word nacre,meaning shellfish or mother-of-pearl. He quietly left the stage,showing little emotion.
“I didn't know too many of the words that the people before me were spelling,” Liam said,“but I still had confidence going up.”
Liam and his father,Kyle,his “spelling coach,” said they were not sure they had practiced nacre in their bee preparation. Liam spelled g-n-a-k-e-r in the competition.
“The words just kind of blend together,” Kyle Bressler said. “There's so many hard words,and you just never know which one is going to get you.”
Liam said he liked the experience of the bee because he was around so many smart spellers. The rookie speller said he is looking forward to competing next year,when he'll have to “start from scratch.”
Meanwhile,another Florida teen,Margaret Williams,an eighth-grader at Lehigh Acres Middle School,in Lehigh Acres,was eliminated after Round 2.
“I was just hoping that she would do her best and she would be OK with whichever way it went,” said Margaret's mother,Marsha Williams,before the results were announced. “I was nervous for her. My stomach was in knots.”
The soft-spoken Margaret didn't show much emotion or nervousness as she prepared to spell her word: oxyblepsia. She missed it by one letter,spelling an “i” where the “y” should be. The word means acuteness of sight.
The day began with 139 boys and 136 girls in the competition. They qualified for the first round by winning contests in all 50 states,plus Canada,the Bahamas,Europe,Guam,Jamaica,New Zealand,Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For the first time this year,in a sign of the growing popularity of spelling bees and “reality TV,” Thursday's championship round will be nationally televised during prime time by ABC.
Note: Amie Parnes covers Florida for the Scripps Howard News Service.