Cundey's National Bee quest falls short

Girl, 11, barely misses goal of reaching the semifinals
Rachael Cundey misspelled "mihrab" in the third round.

Rachael Cundey's quest to make it into the semifinals of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee fell short Thursday.

In round two, Rachael, a fifth-grade South Columbia Elementary student, correctly spelled "nocive," a synonym for hurtful. However, in the third round, she misspelled "mihrab," a decorative panel in a Muslim mosque indicating the direction of Mecca.

"She's kind of embarrassed because she knew how to spell it," Tammy Cundey said of her daughter.

Rachael immediately tried to correct herself but it was too late. The judges replayed the tape but went with the original response in accordance with bee rules. Rachael said she got nervous.

"She just added another letter," Cundey said.

Students were selected for the semifinals based on points earned for correctly spelled words during Thursday's three rounds. The first round was a computer test where students typed out their answers. The next two rounds were both on stage. The contest started with 273 students and was cut to 48 for today's semifinals.

This year marked the second in a row that the 11-year-old represented Augusta in the national bee. Last year, she did not reach the semifinals. However, it hasn't changed her determination.

Rachael, who plays the flute and piano, sings solos at school, takes lead parts in school plays and is an anchor in her school's morning show, said she'll continue to add spelling and language patterns to her busy list.

"She's in fifth grade so she knows there's plenty of other opportunities," her mother said.