WASHINGTON — Prince William County’s ace speller, 12-year-old Ricky Zein, started the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee on Wednesday with high hopes of being number one.
However, after sweeping through round one with the correct spelling of “scrobiculate,” Ricky, a seventh-grader at Godwin Middle School in Dale City, somehow lost his grip on round two’s 25-word written spelling test.
But even so, he is still number one in the county after winning the county’s annual middle school Spelling Bee in March, a feat that earned him his seat among 250 young champion spellers from around the United States on Wednesday.
Given not the easiest words to spell, or even pronounce, the prestigious National Spelling Bee had students praying and pulling out their hair on stage.
Although he admitted the round was nerve-racking, Ricky, speller No. 233, appeared cool and confident in the limelight of the first round.
Round one eliminated 75 spellers with words like “metheglyn,” “choelostat,” and “antonnamagia.”
In the second round, contestants sat at tables with a paper and pencil as judges gave them an hour-long written exam. This is the first time in 75 years that spellers were given a written test. The test allows the bee to run more quickly than in years past, eliminating an oral round that could have taken several hours.
Ricky was not alone in the aftermath of the second round — 84 others were eliminated as well.
Ninety spellers will compete in the third round, which may be viewed on ESPN today from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.
After moderators collected the spelling sheets, Ricky said he may has missed several words on the exam.
“I don’t like to predict the future, I’m still nervous,” he said.
By studying for months right up until the bee, Ricky thought he was well-prepared and said on Wednesday morning that he wanted to finish first.
“I have been studying and studying,” he said. “This is in between hard and easy.”
Although Ricky did not advance to the televised final round, he still won a cash prize of $125, a National Spelling Bee watch from Scripps Howard and a Samuel Louis Sugarman Award savings bond of $100.
To help him with his hobby of writing, Ricky also collected a Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
The Potomac News also sponsored the Washington, D.C., trip for him and his father.
Scripps Howard has scheduled an assortment of tourism activities in Washington, D.C., for the spellers and their chaperones and Ricky said this has been his favorite part of the week-long event. “I am having fun,” he said.
Ricky could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Staff writer Louise Cannon can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 123.