Local speller starts Scripps Spelling Bee with vocabulary test

Photo courtesy Scripps National Spelling Bee

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP/WCIV) -- Lowcountry spelling champ Owen Duffy is one of 281 participants in this year's Scripps Spelling Bee which, for the first time ever, started out with a vocabulary test.

Owen is a rising eighth grader at FortJohnson Middle School on James Island. He joins students from all 50 states and other countries at the GaylordNational Resort and Convention Center, just outside of Washington, D.C. including five other students from the state of South Carolina.

He won the chance to represent the Charleston County School District by beating out 49 other Lowcountry spellers at The Post andCourier's Spellbound! regional bee last March.

"Owen plays on both his school's baseball and basketball teams, but baseball is his favorite sport.," his Scripps Spelling Bee profile reads. "He would love to meet Felix Hernandez, the all-star pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Owen also enjoys reading, playing with remote control cars, and riding his unicycle, but not all at the same time. A talented performer, Owen plays French horn in his school's honor band (which recently received two superior ratings in concert festival) and participates in school theater productions. He won his school's geography bee as a sixth grader, and his favorite foods are sushi, ham subs and beef jerky (again, not all at the same time)."

This year, the 86th edition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is different in that for the first time, spellers are required to take a vocabulary test to make sure they not only know how to spell tough words, but know their meaning as well.

Competitors took a 45-minute computer test, with the results to be combined with Wednesday's on-stage round to determine which spellers advance to the semifinals on Thursday.

The scoring system includes 24 words to spell and 24 words to define, although only 12 of each count toward the total score. There was also a pair of extra vocabulary words worth three points each. The spellers were asked to choose among four possible definitions for each vocabulary word.

Organizers announced the addition of the vocabulary test seven weeks ago, saying it reinforces the bee's mission to encourage students to broaden their knowledge of the English language. They waited until all the qualifying bees had been completed so that all the spellers would be on equal footing in their preparation.

The 2013 Scripps National SpellingBee is being held May 28-30. In the preliminary rounds, the 281spellers will be whittled down to the top 50 for the semifinals.

There will be another vocabulary test for those who make it to the semifinals, but Thursday night's finals will look the same as always - with spellers taking turns tackling incredibly difficult words under the bright lights of prime-time television until only a champion remains. The winner takes home more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.

ThePreliminaries will be broadcast on on Wednesday, May 29 at 8 a.m. and1:15 p.m.

The Semifinals will air on ESPN-2 beginning at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 30,with the Finals following at 8 p.m. that evening on ESPN.

*Details of vocabulary test provided by AP Sports Writer, Joseph White