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N.D. man spells ‘debouch’ to win senior bee

Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. ” The word was “debouch,” and Larry Grossman did just that, emerging as the winner of this year’s senior spelling bee.

Grossman, 56, put himself in position to win by spelling “botryoidal.” He clinched the title Saturday by correctly spelling “debouch,” which means “to come forth; emerge.”

Grossman, of Northwood, N.D., is a teacher and six-time winner of the North Dakota state spelling bee. For winning the 13th annual AARP The Magazine’s National Spelling Bee, he gets to take home $500 plus bragging rights.

“This is a great feeling. ‘Great’ doesn’t seem like a very adequate word but that’s all I can think of on short notice,” he said.

It was Grossman’s first AARP The Magazine’s National Spelling Bee for people 50 and over.

The bee rules allow contestants in the final, oral round to misspell up to two words before being eliminated on their third misspelled word. The last four contestants all missed two words, making for a tense showdown.

“It was kind of like the bottom of the ninth with two outs,” Grossman said.

Last year’s third-place finisher, Michael Petrina Jr., of Arlington, Va., took second. Petrina was eliminated by misspelling “umbones,” which is the word for a knob or protrusion at the center of a shield.

“There were a lot of good spellers up on stage during the finals and it was sort of luck of the draw,” said Petrina, 63, a retired lobbyist for the personal care products industry.

Finishing third was Scott Firebaugh, of Knoxville, Tenn. Firebaugh tripped up on the word “wampumpeag,” a string of polished beads or shells.

Firebaugh has plenty of experience with spelling bees. He finished 16th in the youth Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1967 and now coaches youngsters in spelling.

He said he studied a list of 6,600 words a day to prepare. But math, not spelling, is his strong suit: He’s a high school math teacher.

“I like the structure of it,” he said of spelling. “I’ve noticed that the national bee, with the kids, a lot of them say math is their favorite subject.”

Norman Zucker, of Sebastopol, Calif., came in fourth. Bill Long, of Salem, Ore., was fifth.

An author and attorney, Long competed in his fifth national senior bee. He finished second two years in a row, came in third two years ago and was 10th last year.

Long, 56, said he studies by looking up words and writing essays about them for his Web site. He said it’s not the most efficient method but he’s learned a lot by writing 800 essays about words over the years.

“I just hope by the time the contest comes around that I’ve studied enough,” he said.

The 16 oral-round finalists advanced from a round in which spellers had to correctly write down 100 words that were read aloud to them. Those words included “petrographer,” a person who studies rocks, and the dauntingly vowel-less “crwth” ” pronounced CROOTH ” a Welsh stringed instrument.

Nancy Friedlander, of San Diego, said that even words she knew ” like “embarrassment” ” turned out to be surprisingly tricky for her in the written round.

“Even the ones where you say, ‘Oh, I know that one,’ when you start to write it, it’s ‘ugh,”‘ she said.

Wyoming AARP spokeswoman Joanne Bowlby said a dozen competitors in this year’s national senior bee have won local or regional adult spelling bees recently.

“They have to be very self-motivated,” she added. “These are people who train themselves and pay their own way.”

Forty-seven people from 24 states competed in the 13th annual senior spelling bee.