OXON HILL, Md. — The Scripps National Spelling Bee weeded out the field to the truly elite spellers during Wednesday's grueling preliminary rounds. Each of the 291 spellers got the opportunity to spell two words on stage. Those who didn't misspell a word were then at the mercy of their score on a written spelling and vocabulary test that they took on Tuesday. Ultimately, the top 40 spellers advanced to Thursday's finals.
Six-year-old Edith Fuller of Tulsa, Okla., had to spell words just as difficult as those everyone else faced in the National Spelling Bee. She got them both right, but like more than 100 other spellers, her test score wasn't high enough to make the finals.
Edith did receive one accommodation to her tender age.
Spellers were assigned numbers in a random draw this year, and Edith, the youngest speller in the history of a competition that allows kids up to age 15, got No. 290 — making her the second-to-last speller to reach the microphone.
Edith Fuller of Tulsa, Okla., who is the youngest speller this year, spells her word during round two of 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center May 31 in National Harbor, Md.
When her group of spellers took the stage, Edith was conspicuously absent, her seat empty. She arrived more than halfway through the two-hour round and sat with her feet dangling over the edge of the chair.
Her parents got permission from Scripps to let Edith spend some of her time offstage while waiting to spell.
"A six-year-old, sitting in one place, not interacting with anybody, for two hours is the equivalent of torture,'' said her father, Justin Fuller. "The spelling bee, the people who are running it, are very sensitive to special needs all across the spectrum and this request was hastily accommodated.''
Added her mother, Annie Fuller: "This is a girl who has difficulty sitting through a Disney movie.''
Edith Fuller, six, of Tulsa, Okla., waits to compete during the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., May 31.
Edith had nowhere to hide during a news conference where she was asked to explain why she likes spelling, list her favourite animals and share stories about the fun times she's shared with other spellers. She offered three-to-five-word answers before turning her head shyly away from the microphone. When she got a follow-up question she didn't understand or care to answer, she just ignored it. It was a performance reminiscent of an agitated Russell Westbrook, dismissively shooting down reporters at NBA press conferences.
Occasionally she mumbled a gem. At one point, apropos of nothing, she mentioned that she hoped to invent a new kind of refrigerator.
As for the spelling, she handled that with apparent ease. In the first round, her word was "nyctinasty,'' the movement of plants in response to the onset of darkness. Like the polished spellers who fare best in the bees, she repeated the word several times and calmly asked for the definition and language of origin.
"I didn't feel nervous,'' Edith said. "I felt good, actually.''
She got "tapas'' in the second round and didn't seem to have heard of the Spanish small plates before, but the applause let her know she spelled it right.