Military kids compete in national spelling bee

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 28, 2009

WASHINGTON - The bright lights, big stage and live nationwide television broadcast would be enough to make anyone n-e-r-v-o-u-s.

But for two national spelling bee contestants with military ties, this year's high-pressure letter showdown was just a fun vacation in the nation's capitol, and a chance to show off some of their smarts.

"I was actually pretty relaxed up there," said Joshua Ursua, an eighth-grader from Shreveport, La., whose father, Victor, is an Army major and orthopedic surgeon currently serving in Iraq. "I'm not sure why, but I wasn't worried at all."

Of course, this year's Scripps spelling bee competition - featuring 293 spellers from 13 countries - was the second consecutive invitation for Ursua, so his mother, Becky, said everyone in the family was a little calmer this year.

But first-year competitor Aria Sharon, an eighth-grader from Netzaberg Middle School in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and the representative of the European defense and state department schools, was just as composed and relaxed after finishing the second round of competition.

"Being one the first to go wasn't really a problem," said Sharon. "The only problem was there was a big wait afterwards for everyone to finish."

All the competitors faced three rounds before the semifinalists were announced Wednesday night: a 50-word computer quiz followed by two rounds of live spelling on stage. Sharon easily dispensed with "disembark" in her first trip onstage but later got tripped up by "urceole" (a tub for washing one's hands).

The contestant before Ursua got "veteran" for his first word, which would have been an easy test for any military brat. Instead, he got "troupe," and spent a few moments making sure they weren't asking him to spell the more familiar "troop." He laughed off the military confusion afterwards.

Only the top 41 contestants got past the first three rounds; Neither Ursua or Sharon made it to the semifinals, but each received a $100 prize and a dictionary, presumably to help define some of the weirder words.

And both got a few days vacation in Washington, D.C., something Sharon said she hadn't done since she was an infant.

The finals of the bee will be broadcast live nationwide Thursday night. The winner of the competition receives $57,500 in prize money and scholarships, along with nearly $4,000 in reference materials.

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