WASHINGTON,May 29 – “Polytrichous,” said pronouncer Jacques A. Bailly. “Thickly covered with hairs or cilia,polytrichous.”
As 13-year-old Hunter Lehmann,of Poulsbo,Wash.,stood on the stage of the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee,he prepared to take on this word.
“Can you use it in a sentence?” he asked. Bailly did,and Hunter began to spell.
He made the “P” sound and stopped. “Are there any alternate pronunciations?”
Closing his eyes,he started again: “P-A…….L.” Twenty-five seconds went by.
One letter caused Hunter Lehmann to be eliminated in bee's quarterfinals.
Despite his disqualification,Hunter wore a smile on his face that was with him when he arrived at the hotel in D.C. He smiled after the first oral test. He smiled after Round 3. He smiled when the bell rang.
It was Round 4 of the bee,and the final test for Hunter and 17 of the other 62 spellers who started the round. Although Hunter didn't advance,he only did worse than 45 other spellers who will participate in the semifinals Friday morning. The competition started with a record 288 Thursday morning,winnowed to 90 after Round 2 at lunchtime.
“We know he worked hard to get here,” said his father,Peter Lehmann,who is also his spelling coach. “We beat our record from last year,so we're happy.”
In the 2007 Bee,Hunter didn't make to the quarterfinals. But Hunter didn't work like he just wanted to make it to the quarterfinals. He worked like he wanted that engraved trophy – the one that's given to the speller who doesn't ever spell out.
Hunter and his father recalled an evening in the months leading up to the bee. They sat in the dining on the second floor of their house. Dinner was not being served,the door was closed and his younger brothers and sisters were not allowed in.
“Mitrailleuse,” his father said,reading from a list with more than 23,000 words to be used in the bee. “Pronounced mee-tra-yooze…origin,French…meaning,a machine gun.”
Hunter sat at the table to the left of and facing his father. He looked for a second at the pencil and paper in front of him. He slowly began,”M…I-T-R-A…”
The list of words,almost 800 pages long,was in a PDF format that his father read from his laptop. They covered 10 pages,or nearly 300 words,that night,more than most of the six night a week they practiced.
After studying for only two months before last year's bee,Hunter said he was “moderately disappointed” after being eliminated. Then he returned home and immediately started preparing for his final year of eligibility with this intense study regimen.
“It has really increased my vocabulary,” he said. “It also helped me with my comprehension.”
Hunter,who is home schooled with his two younger brothers and two younger sisters, started spelling in first grade and won first place in a school spelling bee. In second grade he got second place,and after a three-year hiatus,he has been spelling ever since. In seventh grade he won first place in the regional spelling bee and his first trip to Washington.
Hunter was nowhere close to disappointment this year. Asked what he plans to do before going back to Poulsbo,he responded,”I plan to do some sight seeing and watch the rest of the bee.”
For making it to Round 4,Hunter won $175,a commemorative watch,a dictionary and a $100 savings bond.
The champion will win $35,000,a $2,500 savings bond,books and an engraved trophy.
The Semifinals will air Friday on ESPN from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. EDT. The Championship will air live Friday on ABC from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.