Friday, May 27, 2005

Champ just wants to have f-u-n at Washington spelling bee

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.05.27
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PAGE: F3
BYLINE: Hayley Mick
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
ILLUSTRATION: Photo: Jana Chytilova, The Ottawa Citizen / Jennifer Hurd,12, left yesterday for Washington, D.C., where she will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, starting next Wednesday. Between now and then, she and her family plan to cram in as many tourist attractions as they possibly can.

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Champ just wants to have f-u-n at Washington spelling bee: Jennifer Hurd knows the competition will be tough at the granddaddy of all spelling bees. But there are museums, a zoo and "a whole bunch of free concerts," writes Hayley Mick.

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Jennifer Hurd, Ottawa's 12-year-old spelling champion, clambered into the family car this morning bound for the U.S. capital and the fiercest spelling bee on the planet.

But competition was the last thing on her mind. Jennifer's family -- which includes parents Karen and James and nine-year-old sister, Janet -- have a five-page list of tourist attractions to cram in before they're joined in Washington, D.C. by the other top spellers from across Canada.

The young spellers, from 10 regions around the country, will compete next week in the two-day Scripps National Spelling Bee -- the granddaddy of all spelling competitions.

"It's gonna be fun," Jennifer said yesterday in the midst of last-minute preparations at her Barrhaven home.

It's also going to be unique.

This is the first year that Canada has had a nation-wide spelling competition. It is also the first time Canadians will compete in the Scripps bee, which in 78 years has grown into an American tradition that begins with nine million children competing each year in local newspaper-sponsored contests.

In Washington, the two-day contest will feature 271 young spellers, aged 10 to 14, who have advanced from across the United States and as far away as New Zealand, Guam and Jamaica. The final tense moments will be broadcast on ESPN, and the champion will take home $18,000 in prizes.

Jennifer, who is home-schooled, says she doesn't feel any pressure. She's studied for the last 10 days, but as her mother, Karen, put it: "We don't have the dictionary shredded because of overuse." Besides, said Jennifer, who placed third at the Canadian national bee, realizes that realistically there's only a slim chance she will make it to the second day of competition.

(Fewer than one-third of the competitors will remain after Day 1 -- which includes a written and several verbal rounds).

While top competitors at the Canadian national bee had learned 3,900 words from a spelling study guide, many American spellers will have memorized that list, plus the entire Webster's Third New International Dictionary and its "addenda section." Others will have studied from a 23,000-word compendium that contains every word that's ever been asked in competition.

"It's different in the States," Mrs. Hurd said.

Of course, Jennifer plans to do her best, meet some international competitors and hang out with the other Canadians, some of whom she kept in contact with via e-mail after nationals. But the Hurd family also wants to make the most out of Washington: They plan to visit the Museum of American History, the National Zoo, a slew of other attractions and "a whole bunch of free concerts," as Jennifer, a keen musician, put it.

"I think it will be fun to see Washington. I don't know if you can call what I'm about to do spelling -- because I don't think I'm going to do much."

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