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Charlotte-area contestants fail to make spelling bee semifinals

By Andrew Hedlund
Medill News Service

WASHINGTON “Do you mind if I sing the letters?”

“As long as they’re clear,” the pronouncer said.

“Stabilimeter. S-T-A-B-I-L-I-M-E-T-E-R. Stabilimeter.”

Katie Danis’ song not only was the correct spelling of “stabilimeter,” it also put her in contention to continue to the semifinal competition at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Defined as a device that helps measure the sway of the body, stabilimeter was one of the words Charlotte-area students faced in the initial round of Wednesday’s event.

Katie of Gaston Day School in Gaston joined fellow seventh-graders Claire McCrea of Northview Middle School in Hickory and Kaitlin Venevongsoth of Kings Mountain Middle School in Kings Mountain. All three were eliminated later Wednesday and won’t compete in Thursday’s semifinals.

While Katie’s music activities, alongside sports and her pet-sitting business, did not necessarily leave room for hours of studying words, her talents clearly helped her spelling.

“One might think that (music and spelling) are completely different,” Katie said, “but actually the same brain functions that go with reading music and playing the piano, they help with spelling and it trains your brain to work in a certain way.”

Of the 281 students who started Wednesday’s oral competition, 266 advanced to the afternoon match. Only 42 advanced further to Thursday’s semifinals, and only a dozen or so of those contestants will qualify for the championship round that will be broadcast live on ESPN.

The Charlotte area’s three students spent months preparing for this week.

Kaitlin’s training mainly consisted of reading, mainly works of fiction. “They have more interesting words,” she said.

But that reading also included plowing through the entire dictionary in a little less than two months.

Claire said studying involved “staring at words as long as I could, trying to memorize them,” and, of course, wouldn’t have been complete without the “good kind” of nagging from mom.

She said the road to the national competition also involved “a lot of people coming up and asking me to spell words I didn’t know how to spell and then looking pretty stupid.”

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