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West Neighborhoods
Reluctant spelling champ from Moon heads to D.C.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

By Grace Rishell, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Thirteen-year-old Damian Metcalf, who recently won the 53rd Annual Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Spelling Bee, was a most reluctant participant.

By the 28th round, Damian had defeated all other challengers and captured the gold trophy by spelling "precatory," a word that means relating to, or expressive of entreaty.

He will go to Washington, D.C., May 28-29 to represent Western Pennsylvania at the 76th annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

But if he'd had his way, Damian never would have taken part in the Post-Gazette competition.

He said his mom "forced" him to participate, and preparing for the spelling bee was "torture." He'd rather have spent the time reading.

For a few months before the contest, Damian's mother made him study about 100 spelling words a day. He credits his win to his knowledge of phonics and a good memory. "I knew I had a good chance of winning. My secret weapon is my memory," he said.

The Moon resident acknowledged that some agreeable things resulted from his win.

Not long ago, he was attending services at St. Joseph Church in Coraopolis, when a woman shook his hand and offered congratulations. The attention made him "feel good," he said. "I never saw her before. She must have read it in the paper."

He's grateful because he'll get an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. He plans to treat it like a vacation and will stay in a luxury hotel and see some of the capitol's sights.

His mom, Nancy Metcalf, will act as chaperone.

Metcalf said her son "would never have chosen to study the practice book if I gave him a choice."

She said "Damian is a naturally good speller and has an excellent memory. It's good for him to do this. I believe as a parent I know better what's good for him than he knows himself and I have that freedom to make him do things."

Metcalf and her husband, Alan, have four children. "I told all four of them they were going to take piano lessons. It's been very good for them to take piano. All four of them can play well," she said. That is "just one other thing I 'forced' them to do," she said.

Two of the Metcalf children earlier participated in Western Pennsylvania spelling bees. Monica, now 24, reached the finals in two competitions, and Jesse, now 23, took third place in 1994.

The oldest three children were homeschooled through eighth grade. Damian, the youngest, currently is homeschooled at the seventh-grade level and likely will enroll at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Moon when he's ready for the ninth grade. Damian's brother Luke is now in ninth grade there.

Metcalf believes it's "in the best interests of my children in all areas, emotionally, spiritually, socially and physically" to be homeschooled.

She's also looking forward to the Washingtop trip and plans to do some sightseeing. She noted that "they have a whole list of tours free for spellers and their escorts."

Damian would like to see the White House but may have to be satisfied with a glimpse of the building's exterior, as tours of the nation's first residence are suspended until further notice due to the war in Iraq.

He's not predicting what will happen at the spelling competition. "I'd be thrilled if I won," he said, but "I'm not planning on it."

Grace Rishell can be reached at grishell@post-gazette.com or 412-269-7118.

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