NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Lwin Moe Aung of Fort Wayne charged through his oral-spelling words Wednesday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
But he got tripped up by the computer-based test he took a day earlier.
So despite correctly spelling “batik” and “suscitate” on the bee stage before hundreds of spectators and a live TV audience, Lwin Moe fell short of the 46 highest scores required to advance to the semifinals.
The word tournament at a ballroom south of Washington, D.C., will whittle what began as a 281-speller field to between nine and 12 young finalists today and a champion tonight. The winner will receive more than $33,000 in cash and prizes.
Lwin Moe, 13, qualified for the 87th Scripps contest by winning The Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee in March.
Asked what he had enjoyed most about the national bee, the seventh-grade student at Lutheran South Unity School said, “Being out of school and going to places,” including the Washington Monument.
It was hard to tell whether Lwin Moe was disappointed with the results – or if he was happy earlier in the day when he spelled his two words. The American-born son of Burmese refugees showed the same serious demeanor regardless of the circumstance.
His father, Than Aung, said the “Moe” in his son’s name translates in English to cool-headedness.
Most other spellers – they were ages 8 to 15 – asked for the definitions and the languages of origin of words pronounced by the bee’s Jacques Bailly, and they wanted the words used in sentences. Some tried to envision the letters in the palms of their hands.
Except to inquire about the original language of “batik” – Javanese to Malay, for a method of decorating fabric – Lwin Moe zipped through it.
“In spelling lists, I’ve been seeing it for like three years,” he said later during breakfast at a restaurant near the spelling site, the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center. “I thought I was going to get a harder one.”
Across the table, his sister and spelling coach, Moe Moe, 16, advised: “Be careful, though. Slow down.”
Moe Moe and mother Aye Aye Nwe sat with Lwin Moe as he practiced spelling 600 words on a computer between rounds. Then speller No. 76 got on the honeycomb-themed stage, was given “suscitate,” which means to rouse or excite, said it aloud a couple of times and ran through the letters.
“I spelled it slowly this time,” he insisted after the round.
In a rules change this year, contestants were eliminated if they misspelled during the oral preliminary rounds, and 58 did just that Wednesday. Among the flubbed words were “keeshond,” “weimaraner,” “pelagial” and “contumelious.”
All the competitors received computer tablets, and the semifinalists will get $500 gift cards. The finalists will take home at least $1,500 each.
Only one of Indiana’s 14 spellers made it to the semifinals: Alekhya Ankaraju, 13, of Carmel.
Although Lwin Moe has a year of eligibility left in his school’s bee, which he has won for four consecutive years, he said he will not participate again because his brother, Soe Moe, 10, will be old enough to enter.