Originally created 05/24/05

Georgia pupil heads to National Spelling Bee



NAHUNTA, Ga. - If you can name it, James Clark can probably spell it.

The 14-year-old Brantley County Middle School pupil will be one of two Georgia spellers competing June 1 in the National Spelling Bee in Washington.

James won a regional spelling bee covering most of Georgia's counties in March that was sponsored by the Atlanta Daily World. Joseph Shepherd, of Waynesboro, won the contest sponsored by The Augusta Chronicle.

Having won, James seldom leaves home without an enormous book, Webster's Third New International Dictionary. It has 470,000 entries, many of which he describes as "absurdly long words."

James will be speller No. 58 out of 272 entries from the 50 states plus U.S. territories, Europe, Canada and other places.

"The first thing I look at is how it's pronounced," James said of his study methods. "Then I sometimes say it. Some of these words, I don't know."

Contestants can ask the judges for a root word, alternate pronunciations, a definition, the language of origin and to have it used in a sentence.

"They've gotten a lot more serious, the preparation, more intense," said his father, Jim Clark, a former Ware County public defender and now a physician.

As good as he is at spelling, James knows his limitations and pointed one out to his partner as they used a microscope to work on a mock crime scene investigation in science class.

"You can draw," James told his partner. "I can't, even if it's something as simple as a hair."

The Clark family lives in Ware County and pays tuition for James to attend school in neighboring Brantley.

James does not lug the huge dictionary to school: National Spelling Bee rules forbid students from studying during school hours. James groused that the rule gives home-schooled children an advantage because they can simply say they've finished with the day's work and hit the dictionary. Indeed, home-schooled children have dominated competition on most levels for several years.

For whatever reason, the words seem to have gotten harder over the years. George Abraham Thampy had to spell "demarche" to win in 2000, "prococurante" was Sai R. Gunturi's winning word in 2003 and David Scott Tidmarsh won last year with "autochthonous."

The winning words were once pretty easy. Betty Robinson won in 1928 with "albumen," Helen Jensen in 1930 with "fracas," Dorothy Greenwald in 1932 with "knack" and Laurel Kuykendall in 1940 with "therapy."