The dreaded ding sounded, and Jae Canetti’s shoulders sagged Thursday at the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee as he realized he had misspelled his word.
Still, even as he walked off the stage, the crowd gave Jae a standing ovation, recognizing that this is probably not the last the bee has seen of the 12-year-old from Reston. This year marked Jae’s third time at the annual spell-off, and as a sixth grader, he still has two years of eligibility ahead.
Jae made it through a preliminary test and two rounds of spelling to make it to the final day of the three-day competition, which took place at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George’s County.
On Thursday just before 10 a.m., Jae took the stage as one of 46 spellers in the semifinals. Even with most of the 281 competitors already eliminated, as speller No. 262, Jae still had a long wait ahead before his turn to spell.
Around 12:30 p.m., Jae went to the microphone and heard his word. Then he went through his usual barrage of questions, asking for the word’s definition, origin, anything that could provide a clue.
But after exhausting all his questions, he paused with his two-minute time limit ticking away, still unsure. Finally, he ventured a guess: “P-A-R-S-A-V-A-L.”
Ding. The correct spelling is “parseval,” defined as a nonrigid airship named after its German designer, August von Parseval.
Jae finished in 37th place. Last year, as a fifth-grader, Jae came in 43rd, and his best-ever finish came as a fourth-grader in 2012, when he finished 22nd.
Still, Jae entered this year’s competition as the only sixth-grader who had previously made it to the semifinals. This year, one other sixth-grader and one fifth-grader joined him in a semifinal crowd otherwise dominated by seventh- and eighth-graders.
Should the three-time champion of the Fairfax County Spelling Bee make it to the national competition again, he will return next year as a top contender.
Two repeat spellers took home the title this year, as for the first time since 1962 the bee ended in a tie. Eighth-grader Sriram Hathwar and seventh grader Ansun Sujoe were declared co-champions. Sriram, a 14-year-old from Painted Post, N.Y., was competing in his fifth national bee, and Ansun, a 13-year-old from Fort Worth, Tex., was competing in his second.