Anurag slays appoggiatura

"Anurag slays appoggiatura" Continued...

Issue: "MS-13: Criminals next door," June 18, 2005

His mother, Michelle, shook her head as she watched on the sidelines. "It's his father's fault because he lets him watch The Three Stooges."

Wearing round spectacles and white Velcro-strap sneakers, Jonathan urged the reporter not to call him a favorite for next year. But he has been preparing for the bee since third grade, and told WORLD he has other competitions ahead next year in geography, math, and spelling.

"I was a little frustrated I didn't make it a tad further," he said. "Next year I'll be happy to get at least past this year. You have to want to win more than everyone else." Jonathan advanced through words such as arbuscle and exanthematic. But fustion, he said, pausing, "was my doom."

Not everyone appreciated the bee, however. On the sidewalks bordering the Hyatt about a dozen picketers paced up and down carrying signs. They were members of the Simplified Spelling Society, a group advocating more predictable spelling than they say the English language offers, as a way to curb illiteracy.

"Enuf is Enuf" read several of the signs they toted. "Enough is too much," read an alternative. "Ban the B in Bomb," read another, though it did not specify which one.

One protester was Nicholas Kerr, an Anglican clergyman who had flown from England for the event. Words like lead, he said, pronounced two ways, make it hard for children to learn to read.

"The language comes along and says, 'Don't be logical,'" he said. "Children are very logical." The spellers inside appeared to disprove his point. They are the "cream of the cream," he explained.

Among the cream, even with disappointments, there were few tears amid the lower-ranked spellers. Dorian, an eighth-grade homeschooler from Buffalo, N.Y., had an especially wrenching knock-out on a word he knew. Told to spell precative-an adjective meaning expressing entreaty, according to Webster's-he asked if it was related to the word precatory.

"Then I spelled precatory," he said, staring at the ground. Still, he knew he did better in the bee than he once expected. "My mom told me about it in sixth grade," he said. "I wasn't sure about it. I didn't think I was a very good speller." Thankfully, Dorian has other pursuits to return to; he has played piano for eight years, he figure-skates, and he works a paper route.

Contests like the spelling bee bring out the best of many participants' worlds: competitive excellence coupled with generous sportsmanship. If the bee is any indication, competition does not raise insensitive kids. As school systems slip in quality, the bee also offers an objective standard of achievement-and emphasizes expertise, said Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

"You don't want a guy designing a radar to say, 'if you get within a couple of degrees, it's good enough,'" he said. "Precision is important to almost every skilled endeavor."

But with so many talented homeschoolers and South Asian juggernauts dominating the bee, is it in danger of becoming elitist? "It's always been elitist," Mr. Farris said. "It separates the good spellers from the bad spellers . . . the kind of elitism we don't want is based on race or who your parents are or what side of town you're from-something other than hard work and achievement."

For champion Anurag, who has appeared twice at the bee, the prize is hefty: $22,000, a $5,000 college scholarship, a $1,000 U.S. savings bond, and sets of encyclopedias. Ever responsible, the California native said he would save the money for college. But right now, he has to figure out what to do with his time during spelling bee season next year.


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