'Their opponent is the dictionary'

The room was quiet, except for the sound of lead scratching against sheets of crisp, lined paper.

"Bandersnatch," Carden Hall spelling teacher Heidi Campbell said aloud. "OK guys, can someone tell me the origin?"

"Eponyms," seventh-grader Dessi Gomez responded immediately.

It was Friday nigh in a Newport Beach Public Library study room and five students from the Newport Beach private school were preparing for Monday, when they would take the written portion of the Orange County Spelling Bee at the County Department of Education. Two thirds of the competition will be eliminated that night, the rest advancing to the oral round March 5.

Kevin Ryu (eighth grade), Beatrice Marshall (seventh grade) and sixth-graders Laurel Foster and Jaanki Patel are used to studying. The students have been preparing with teachers at lunch and after school, in addition to studying at home in preparation for the competition.

They had to raise $130 each to participate. How did some earn the cash? By spelling, of course.

Jaanki said a family friend offered her about 25 cents a word and he told her he would let her spell as many words as she could until she missed two. The sixth-grader raised $75 going that route.

Laurel said her family pulled out the big guns.

"They gave me the hardest words they knew," she said.

The students aren't easily stumped. They know words of all origins, from Slavic, Asian, Dutch and German to New World and Old English. It also helps that all Carden Hall students are taught French.

Campbell explained that some languages, such as Italian, don't use the whole 26-letter alphabet. Laurel immediately chimed in when the question was posed as to which letters weren't in Italian.

"J, K, W, X, Y," she said.

As for the bee on Monday, all the kids were excited for the possibility of winning, but also admitted they just like learning words.

"They don't view each other as opponents," Campbell said. "Their opponent is the dictionary."

Weighing in at 2,662 pages, the dictionary, which Campbell calls "the bible," is always within reach.

The winner of the Orange County Spelling Bee has the chance to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.


Twitter: @joannaclay

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