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Durham 5th grader all smiles despite falling short of finals in national spelling bee

Durham speller Jason Sorin did not make it to the finals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee Wednesday, May 31.
Durham speller Jason Sorin did not make it to the finals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee Wednesday, May 31. Medill News Service

(The last paragraph of this story was changed from the original version to reflect that the entire family will be moving to Scotland, but only for one year.)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. Durham speller Jason Sorin, a fifth grader at Triangle Day School, easily spelled “longevous” and and successfully guessed his way through “accumbent” Wednesday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but did not make it to the finals, having fallen short on an earlier written test.

Jason seemed relaxed after the names of the 40 finalists for the Thursday, June 1 championship round were announced. “I didn’t expect to make it to the finals anyway,” he said.

He said he couldn’t believe he’d “made it this far” into the nationals.

“Dan poked me and said ‘Jason could win this’, and I said, ‘no, we don’t have time for this’,” said Deborah, Jason’s mother, referring to Jason’s father. “We are so thrilled to be here, and the whole school has been so supportive, and all of Durham has been really thrilled, and we thank them so much.”

Spelling onstage in Gaylord Convention Center, the 11-year-old pulled off “accumbent” to get past the third round after spelling “longevous” correctly in the second round.

While Jason could “rattle off” all of the 400 words on the bee’s word list for the second round, he did not know the word “accumbent.”

But Jason said he was not nervous. “I may have read it somewhere, or I may have guessed it,” he said. “I’ve never been too stressed on stage, even if I don’t know the word,”

Jason’s parents, Deborah and Dan, sister Julie, and all four of his grandparents were beaming in the audience as they watched Jason spell.

Eight-year-old Julie gave him a big hug right after the finalists were announced.

He mainly trained himself for the bee by having his mother quiz him at home, and attending to the school’s spelling bee contests.

Jason enjoys reading horror stories and history stories. He goes to a Durham Public Library every week and returns home “with a bag full of books, his father said.

The father and son read together every night.

Dan received an email from Jason’s class, saying that they had been watching Jason compete via livestream. “They said they were cheering every time Jason comes on stage,” Dan said,

The National Spelling Bee started off with 291 spellers Wednesday morning, and 188 spellers remained after the elimination rounds, eventually being whittled down to 40 by using the written tests.

Jason’s parents were not expecting him to go to the finals -- he’d advanced to the national bee by winning a four-way spell-off to break a tie and claim the Duke University Regional Spelling Bee on March 23 -- and said that they were happy as long as Jason was having fun.

The bee turns 90 years old this year and has welcomed its youngest national contestant in history– 6-year-old Edith Fuller, who joined the regionals when she was five.

Jason will move to Scotland with his family for a year in July, and Jason is contemplating competing in the bee as part of a possible European delegation. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it because the class there is much bigger,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the Duke Regional spell-off title win, Sorin edged out Evan Fahringer, an East Chapel Hill Homeschooler, Isabel Murray, a seventh grader from Durham School of the Arts, and Caroline Lazarus, an eighth grader from Charles W. Stanford Middle School.