They’ll compete in Thursday’s finals, which begin at 10 a.m. Thursday and which will conclude with 8:30 p.m. prime time final rounds on ESPN.
Wednesday’s competition – in which competitors were given words out of a dictionary to spell, meaning there was a good chance they’d never seen them before – proved a mixed bag.
Aiden Clerico, 14, an eighth grader at West Jefferson Middle School in West Jefferson who was sponsored by Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication, appeared to smile faintly to himself when associate pronouncer Brian Sietsema gave him the word “infotainment” – which means broadcast material meant to entertain and inform - in round three of the bee. As Sietsema gave him a sentence using the word, Aiden appeared to bite his lip and give a small smile. He nailed it, then, with a business-like nod, headed back to his seat.
His mother, Susan Clerico, said she was a little less nervous when she began hearing the round three words, many familiar to her. Despite their familiarity, she said, it was possible to get one “you could easily screw up.” While Aiden survived his time on stage, his test scores combined with the time onstage were not enough to make the cut.
Some words were just hard. Akhil Madala, 11, a sixth grader at Willard Grizzell Middle School, also asked for all the information about his word, “tracery,” which means “the decorative open work in the head of a gothic window.”
Sietsema told him the word came from Latin, through French, before coming to English. Akhil gave it a shot: “T-R-A-S-O-U-R-Y,” he tried.
Then came the bell, signaling the misspelling. Akhil trudged offstage to a waiting comfort couch, where his mother met him and escorted him away.
His mother, Sowjanya Valluri, said the experience was a positive one nonetheless. As a sixth grader, Akhil can return two more times before he ages out of the bee. “We just wanted to see how it was,” she said, saying her son was a little disappointed but hopeful he’d have an opportunity to return.
As for Joshua: He said he immediately recognized the word “yokel.”
“It’s a word I’ve studied a lot,” he said. “It was definitely a word I knew I was going to get right.”
Spellers competing this year range in age from 8 to 15; they come not only from the United States but from South Korea, Jamaica, Scotland, Japan and Italy, among other nations.
The winner of the bee will receive a $40,000 cash prize and engraved trophy from Scripps; a $2,500 cash prize and complete reference library from Merriam-Webster and a Pizza Hut pizza party for the champion’s school, as well as have the opportunity to appear on Live with Kelly and Ryan and on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
The finals of the bee will air Thursday night from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on ESPN.