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County Spelling Bee Winner Heads to D.C.

Local Severn River Middle School student LeAn Nguyen makes it to the sixth round.

When Emily Durell first heard her championship word Saturday morning in Round 10 of the Anne Arundel County Spelling Bee she “totally freaked out.”

The freaking out was for good reason. Her word? Execration. It’s a noun meaning the act of cursing or denouncing.

It may sound easy now, especially reading it. But standing in front of a packed room of family members, teachers, administrators and 26 other contestants who had misspelled a word before her, “execration” was not exactly what Emily said she was expecting to hear.

“I think it was on the list, but I’ve never used it in a sentence,” the 13-year-old from Crofton Middle School said shortly after correctly spelling the word. “It’s totally mind blowing. I never expected to be the winner.”

Cheers erupted in the school board meeting room in the Parham Building along Riva Road when Emily, who finished second at last year’s county bee, took the top title in this 23rd annual event. She has earned a trip to the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., on June 1.

There was a four-way tie for second place, with each speller bowing out in the ninth round. The second-place winners were Courtney Dixon of Annapolis Area Christian School, Carrie Shade of the School of Incarnation, Jessica Schultz of St. Jane Frances School, and Hope Lomvardias of St. Martin’s Lutheran School.

Christopher Umanzor of Old Mill Middle School South and Kate Reed of Severn School tied for third place.

Showing the calm reserve of a veteran speller despite this being her first time in the bee, Hillsmere resident Annabel Thompson bowed out in Round 6 with an incorrect spelling of the word taiga. According to Merriam Webster, it’s a moist subarctic forest dominated by conifers (as spruce and fir) that begins where the tundra ends.

The 13-year-old eighth grader at The Key School had successfully made it that far by conquering words such as soliloquy, tritium and isobar.

Her mother, Liz Glass, said getting nervous is not Annabel’s style, saying she does very well in front of crowds.

“In all of her spelling tests in lower school she never got anything wrong,” Glass said. “And she never had to study the words. She pretty much has a photographic memory.”

Joe Thompson, Annabel’s father, who works at Indian Creek School, said he was already proud of all the students in the bee, just for qualifying.

“(Annabel) loves reading and it’s clear that all the other kids here do, too,” he said. “This has really been a good celebration of what all these kids are capable of doing and their potential.”

Looking around the room prior to the start of Round 5 when the field had been narrowed down to 12 spellers, Thompson said he was excited with how the event was organized and how the students supported each other.

“It’s great to see how positive the whole thing has turned out to be,” he said.

And echoing his sentiments, many of the students offered a thumbs up to a smiling speller as they walked successfully back to their seats, or whispered a “good luck” as the next speller walked up to the microphone.

All of the contestants received a prize bag with various gifts, including a $25 check from the 21st Century Education Foundation. Those in the top three spots each will receive a trophy and additional cash prizes. The second-place finishers also won a Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and an Amazon.com gift card.

As the champion, Emily also won a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and a Samuel Louis Sugarman Award certificate and savings bond donated by Jay Sugarman, in honor of his father, a lifelong advocate of education.

For the first time, the bee was broadcast live on AACPS-TV on Channel 96 on Comcast and Broadstripe and Channel 36 on Verizon. The event will be shown again and the schedule can be found on the school system's website.

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