Friday, May 30, 2003

Speller trips on 'marotte'



By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

After sailing through tongue-twisters and head-scratchers like isarithm, purlieu and girandole, Finneytown's Nathanael Bonnell's bid to become the National Spelling Bee Champion ended Thursday afternoon with an obscure French term.

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Nathanael Bonnell made it to the fourth round.
(Gannett News Service photo)
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Only 29 of the original 251 young people were left on the stage of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., when the pronouncer asked the Finneytown Middle School spelling champion to spell marotte.

It's a French term that means pet idea or notion; it pops up in English literature.

Nathanael, 14, asked for the definition and for the word to be pronounced again, but he was unable to spell it.

Afterward, Nathanael pronounced himself "annoyed,'' saying he suspected the correct spelling but went against his instincts.

"Grandma's going to be ticked off; she's a French teacher and it was a French word,'' said Nathanael. His grandmother, now retired, taught at Hamilton High School.

Nathanael's elimination was disappointing to the staff and students of Finneytown Middle School, who crowded around classroom television sets to watch their spelling hero live on ESPN.

But he will still return a school hero.

"He is a very unique, very bright young man,'' said Bobbie Hosmer, school secretary.

More than 10 million grade-school children nationwide participated in the annual event and only 251 regional champions went to Washington for the finals Thursday.

A 13-year-old eighth-grader from Dallas, Sai Gunturi, nailed "pococurante" to win the spelling bee Thursday. The word means indifferent or nonchalant.

Evelyn Blacklock, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Tuxedo Park, N.Y., was the runner-up.

Also watching the spelling bee on TV was a U.S. Army Reserve staff sergeant stationed in Iraq - Nathanael's father, James Bonnell. His unit, the 705th Transportation Co., got him a special satellite feed for the broadcast. Nathanael's mother, Ann Bonnell, was with her son in Washington.

Nathanael was calm on stage, crossing his legs occasionally and standing with his hands in his pockets while waiting in line to spell. His mother was more nervous, sitting with her head cupped in her hands.

"I was praying,'' Ann Bonnell said. "

The Finneytown teen navigated some very rough waters in the first rounds of the contest, spelling isarithm, a mathematical term; heuristic, helping to discover or learn; purlieu, the outlying part of a forest; and girandole, a revolving cluster of fireworks, before being eliminated in the sixth round.

Nathanael won $400. While his spelling bee biography says he collects coins, makes model rockets and hopes to get a snake in the near future, Nathanael's mother said he will spend the prize money on watches.

"He likes to buy fancy watches,'' she said. "He's always been fascinated with them.''

Washington reporter Carl Weiser and the Associated Press contributed. E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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