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'Precatory' earns 7th-grader newspaper spelling bee title

Sunday, March 16, 2003

By Ervin Dyer, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Damian Metcalf, a home-schooled seventh grade student from Coraopolis, walked away as the winner in a nail-biter of a contest at the 53rd Annual Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Spelling Bee yesterday.

Damian Metcalf sits with his trophy after winning the 53rd Annual Post-Gazette Spelling Bee. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

By Round 14, Damian had toppled 28 competitors in the finals.

All that stood between him and the trophy was David Ou, a sixth-grader at Franklin Regional Middle School in Murrysville.

Damian, 13, needed 10 more rounds to depose David, a composed 12-year-old from Murrysville.

David got close, but fumbled three chances to snare the contest. He went down in Round 28, misspelling the word "chromatophore," a pigment-bearing cell.

The tight final rounds made David "kinda nervous," he said, wiping tears at the end.

Damian broke through by correctly spelling "neolalia," a noun that describes the speech of a psychotic that is meaningless to the hearer. To clinch the win, he spelled the adjective "precatory," a word that means relating to, or expressive of entreaty.

The soft-spoken Damian, who at times seemed to be whispering into the microphone, broke into a smile, received a round of applause and a gold trophy.

The first prize is an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., where Damian will represent Western Pennsylyania at the National Spelling Bee in May.

Yesterday's event got under way at 9:30 a.m. when 91 students from schools across the region showed up at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium in Oakland, which was filled with supportive, albeit nervous, family and friends.

Rick Sebak, a WQED producer, pronounced the words for students and helped ease tensions with humor.

When Kristina Cieslak correctly spelled "applause," he suggested the audience reward her with a round.

He also invoked the spirit of children's show host Fred Rogers, who had lived near the Frick.

"Truly, if you have made it here today, you are very special," he told the students. "May Fred be with you."

D.J. Main of West Green Middle School was the first to stumble, tripping on "dermatology." Sebak awarded him the "Fred Rogers You Are Special Award."

Others were felled by "nineties," "derby," "repetition," "Adonis," "allure," and "steeplechase."

Last year's winner, Priya Singh, an eighth-grader from Cardinal Wright Regional on the North Side, was among the top three finalists. The bell tolled for her when she spelled "cemetery" with an "a" instead of the final "e."

Damian said he entered this year's competition because his mom "forced" him.

"I didn't really want to be in it, but my mom's persistence paid off," he said.

For his efforts, Damian also received a Webster's Third New International Dictionary and a $100 savings bond. Other students received Barnes & Noble gift certificates, dictionaries, watches and tickets to the Carnegie Science Center UPMC Sportsworks.

Damian said he studied a few words every weekday and spent the two days before the competition reviewing many others.

On Friday, "we did the whole book," he said.


Ervin Dyer can be reached at edyer@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1410.

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