Danvers student comes up short in national spelling bee finals

By: Mina Corpuz and Alexandra Koktsidis

Published in The Boston Globe May 26

A Danvers middle school student advanced into the finals of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night before ultimately getting stumped.

Mitchell Robson of Marblehead, an eighth-grader at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, was competing against nine other youths in the finals at the Gaylord National Resort and Center in National Harbor, Md. The 14-year-old tripped up in the second round of the finals when he misspelled “Wehrmacht.”

Robson correctly spelled the first word in the round, the French-derived “esquisse,” which is the first rough sketch of a picture, or model of a statue.

After asking for the definition, language of origin, and its use in a sentence, Robson asked pronouncer Jacques Bailly if there was “anything else I could get out of you.”

Bailley did not have anything else, he quipped.

Robson’s quest for the title came to an end when he incorrectly spelled the word “Wehrmacht,” using a “v” instead of a “w.”

“I feel both happy and that I exceeded my expectations, but I also feel a little bad,” he said. “I think what made me feel bad is that I got a word wrong that I actually knew,” he said after the competition. “I was confident on the word, I just didn’t get the right spelling out of the cobwebs.”

In 25 rounds of nonstop spelling, with a few blips along the way, the championship was cinched by 11-year-old Nihar Janga, a fifth-grader from Austin, Texas, and 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar, a seventh-grader from New York, who tied for the title.

Janga spelled the word “gesellschaft,” following Hathwar’s correct spelling of “Feldenkrais.”

Upon spelling their respective words, both jumped up and down on stage, and held the trophy high. This is the third year in a row that the Scripps National Spelling Bee has seen co-champions.

Janga, Hathwar, and Robson were among 45 contestants that began the spelling bee on Thursday morning.

Nearly 300 students started out in the contest at the beginning of the month, and Robson was the only competitor left in the finals from Massachusetts, according to the spelling bee. The three other students were from Boston, Harvard, and West Tisbury.

In an interview after the morning session of the finals, Robson said this was the farthest he has made it after three times in national competition. Vigorous preparation for the spelling bee began back in August 2013, Robson said.

In the morning session, Robson was first faced with the Greek word “pentecostys,” which is a troop of 50 soldiers in the Spartan army. He asked the pronouncer to “cut me some slack” before he was given “nagelfluh” — a German word for a chain of mountains in the Alps.

Later, he solved the word “formatore,” which is an Italian word for a molder or modeler of substances such as plaster or wax.

Ultimately, Robson spelled the French word “piqueur” to earn his spot in the finals group.

His parents and brother clapped for the 14-year-old from the audience.

Robson said he first became interested in spelling bees in the fourth grade. He has dedicated several hours a day running through spelling words. Robson said he also studies language patterns and root words to give him a better chance to get the words right.

“That’s what separates the elite from the very elite,” he said. “It’s not just about memorization. Nobody can memorize the dictionary.”

Robson said the competitors were supportive of each other. “We’re all rooting for each other,” he said. “We all want to win, but we all look forward to everyone doing well.”

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