NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – What a difference a day makes at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
During Wednesday’s preliminary oral-spelling rounds, many of the 281 contestants were casual, confident, even cocky.
Can you use the word in a sentence, please? Keshav Ramesh of South Windsor, Connecticut, asked pronouncer Jacques Bailly when Keshav received the word debacle.
Bailly obliged, but Keshav, 11, wasn’t satisfied.
Can you use the word in a funny sentence, please, he instructed Bailly, who would sometimes offer a whimsical narrative containing a speller’s word.
Bailly declined the request. Keshav spelled correctly anyway.
But during Thursday’s semifinal rounds, most of the 46 spellers who remained were more formal, more serious and more puzzled as Bailly pronounced words seemingly more complicated than the day before.
Some kids pleaded for information – definitions, parts of speech, languages of origin, alternate pronunciations.
Can you give me everything I haven’t asked? Shobha Dasari, 13, of Pearland, Texas, implored of Bailly on the word helophyte.
Bailly couldn’t do enough. Shobha put an extra l in the word, which is a perennial marsh plant.
Sighs replaced quips from the stage at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center as misspellings of serictery, siriasis and induciae eliminated competitors.
The tone of the bee production changed from one day to the next, too, although in reverse: As the spellers grew somber, their environment upped its dazzlement quotient, no doubt the result of switching TV channels from ESPN3 to ESPN2.
Speller profiles and parents’ reactions to properly spelled words splashed on a video screen at one side of the honeycomb-themed stage – along with plugs for broadcasts of the French Open tennis tourney and the next Pacers-Heat game in the NBA playoffs.
Stage hands held up Applause! cards to prompt the ballroom audience. There had been no interruptions Wednesday, but spelling was halted every 12 minutes or so Thursday for two-minute commercial breaks.
Whether it is because of the TV cameras or the pressure of competition or just the nature of youngsters, spellers’ personalities tend to emerge at every Scripps bee. There is always the cute kid, the shy kid, the bewildered kid, the brainy kid – well, lots of brainy kids.
This year, there was speller Jacob Daniel Jacobson, 15, a home-schooled eighth-grader from Cape Coral, Florida.
I know this one, he said Wednesday about raconteur – repeating Keshav’s demand for a funny sentence.
All right, I got this one, Jacob said the same day before spelling impasto.
He jumped and raised his arms after spelling harlequinade on Thursday.
When announced as one of the 12 finalists, Jacob got down on the stage floor and pounded it with his hands. He stood up, clutched his head in his hands, bent over, waved to people in the audience. He couldn’t stop moving for several minutes.
A CBS station led its report with Jacob. Vulture.com named him one of its five favorite contestants. Barstoolsports.com called him the total package because he collects coins, has goldfish and possesses electricity not seen since Barry Sanders, who was among the NFL’s greatest running backs.
Speller No. 38 had become a character on a TV show, thanks to word of mouth – his own.