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Regional Spelling Bee Winner Goes to Washington D.C.

Kunal Sah holds his regional trophy.

This week 275 young people from all over the United States , its territories, Europe, Canada and New Zealand will congregate in Washington D.C. for BeeWeek; the national competition to find out who the best young speller in the land is.

In this large group of kids is Kunal Sah, a seventh grader from Green River High School who won the southeastern Utah regional spelling bee that was sponsored by the Sun Advocate and Emery County Progress.

The regional and national spelling bee contest is the nation's largest and longest-running educational promotion, administered on a not-for-profit basis by The E.W. Scripps Company and the 268 sponsors who support the students who are coming to the competition.

Each year sponsors organize a spelling bee program in their community, usually with the cooperation of area school officials. The champion of the sponsor's final spelling bee advances to the finals in the nations capitol in the late spring.

The national spelling bee is not open to the public. The competition venue is much smaller than many people imagine it to be. In fact, the size of the venue is such that the bee rations only three admission passes per finalist speller and their family members.

The statistics on this years spellers are typical of past years with the exception of one thing.

There are more competitors than ever before. With 275 young people competing it dwarfs many other years.

Of the 275 competitors, 139 are boys and 136 are girls.

Age ranges varies from one nine year old to two 15 year olds. The largest number of spellers are 13 (96 competitors) with 14 year olds making up the next biggest group (92).

The purpose of the months of competition is to help students improve their spelling, in crease their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.

Interestingly many of the people and officials that run the Scripps National Spelling Bee were once contestants themselves.

For instance, Paige P. Kimble, director of the spelling bee, is the 1981 national champion and 1980 runner-up. Many of the others involved also either won the competition or very nearly did when they were students.

This year denotes the 79th annual competition. It began in 1925 when the Louisville-Courier-Journal began the program. That first year there were nine contestants. In 1941 Scripps took the program over.

While the spelling bee is an annual event, there were three years during World War II when the even was not held. In three years of the competition (1950, 1957 and 1962) there were co-champions crowned. Of the 81 champions that have held the top spot, 42 have been girls and 39 were boys.

Many people often wonder why the competition is called a spelling bee. Some think it has to do with the industry and precision of the insects, which often adorn the programs covers of the contest.

The word bee, as used in spelling bee, is one of those language puzzles that has never been satisfactorily accounted for. A fairly old and widely used word, it refers to a community social gathering at which friends and neighbors join together in a single activity (sewing, quilting, barn raising, etc.) usually to help one person or family.

The earliest known example in print is a spinning bee, in 1769. Other early occurrences are husking bee (1816), apple bee (1827), and logging bee (1836). Spelling bee is apparently an American term. It first appeared in print in 1875, but it seems certain that the term was used orally for several years before that.

Those who used the word bee, including most early students of language, assumed that it and the word that refers to the insect were the same. They thought that this particular meaning had probably been inspired by the obvious similarity between these human gatherings and the industrious, social nature of a beehive. But in recent years scholars have rejected this explanation, suggesting instead that this bee is a completely different word. One possibility is that it comes from the Middle English word bene, which means "a prayer" or "a favor" (and is related to the more familiar word boon). In England, a dialect form of this word, been or bean, referred to "voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary). Bee may simply be a shortened form of been, but no one is entirely certain.

For Sah and the others at the spelling bee, there will be nothing old about the competition. Words are carefully selected and pronounced so that spellers can be sure to know what they are attempting. The rules are pretty strict.

Each speller has been assigned a number alphabetically by state, territory, or country. Except for Round One, which is a 25-word written test, this is an oral competition conducted in rounds until only one speller remains. That is unlike the regionals where there are a number of competitive rounds that use various methods besides just oral.

During oral rounds, rounds end after all spellers among those remaining in competition have spelled for the judges one new word. Beginning in Round Three, if a speller misspells a word, one of the judges will ring a bell after the misspelling is completed. The pronouncer will then give the correct spelling. A member of the spelling bee staff will escort the speller backstage.

During oral rounds a speller may ask questions about a word's pronunciation, definition, part of speech, use in a sentence, and etymology. Once having started to spell a word, the speller may start over, but the letters or sequence of letters already spoken may not be changed.

The spellers will be in Washington all week (May 28-June 2) but the competition days will be May 31 and June 1.

The prizes vary depending on where spellers finish, with the top prize a $20,000 cash award and an engraved loving cup from Scripps. The winner also gets a $2500 U.S. Savings Bond from Merriam-Webster, two $5,000 cash prizes from various other sponsors and a $5,000 college scholarship as well.

All competitors get an engraved watch, a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, at $100 savings bond, various clothing items and other cash prizes.

This year for the first time there will be live television coverage of the spelling bee. ABC will broadcast the final championship rounds of the bee in high definition from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. EDT on June 1.

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