Jason Sorin is going to Washington, D.C., having spelled his way past his competition.
Sorin, a fifth grader from Triangle Day School, won a four-way Duke University Regional Spelling Bee spell-off Thursday to earn a chance to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The Duke-sponsored spelling competition began with 58 contestants on March 11 but after 11 rounds of words spelled correctly and incorrectly, the field was whittled to four almost two weeks ago before being halted due to time constraints.
The bee's final four squared off downtown at First Presbyterian Church in a non-public setting as the contest resumed Thursday.
Sorin was joined in the spell-off by 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.
The spellers sat faced a small audience of parents and Duke administrators.
Phail Wynn Jr., vice president of Duke's Office of Durham & Regional Affairs, was the spell-off’s “pronouncer,” meaning he called out the words to be spelled.
Adjunct Instructor of Education and Director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership Sam Miglarese and Channa Pickett, senior program coordinator of communications for Duke's Office of Durham & Regional Affairs, were the judges.
The emcee was Lou Rollins, director of special projects for Duke's Office of Durham & Regional Affairs.
The first round went smooth with all words — including “paginate” and “delectable” — spelled correctly.
The second round was not was forgiving. Two spellers went down.
Fahringer misspelled “efface.”
“Efface — a-f-f-a-c-e,” Fahringer spelled incorrectly.
Murray fell on the word “lorikeet.”
Lorikeets are medium-sized parrots native to southeastern Asia. Murray — so close — spelled it with an a instead of an i.
That left Sorin and Lazarus.
In round three, Lazarus was given “perceptible” to spell.
“Perceptible — p-e-r-c-e-p-t ...” Lazarus said, and paused.
The pause was long. She stood motionless. No one spoke as she searched for that lost suffix.
As Lazarus stood up there, at podium, in front of her judges, an austere portrait of George W. Watts hanging on the wall at her back and her feet atop a timeworn church floor with cracks and crevasses no coat of wax could make shine, the only sound in the room was the ticking of a single clock.
Fifteen seconds passed. Then 25 more.
“...I-B-L-E,” Lazarus finished. Correctly.
Lazarus had to spell “bight” in round four.
Before Lazarus was given the word, Wynn told the speller, “This word has a homonym ... Bight, a curve or recess in a coastline.”
Lazarus spelled out loud, “Bight — b-i-g-h-t.”
In round four, Sorin was asked to spell “contrariant” and he correctly called out the letters at a breakneck pace.
“C-o-n-t-r-a-r-i-a-n-t,” Sorin hurriedly spelled.
“That is correct!' Wynn announced, and Sorin's father, let out a sigh of relief.
“Jesus Christ,” the dad gasped.
Lazarus was felled by the word “rogatory” in round five and Sorin won it by spelling “symmetrical.”
Sorin was asked to give a victory speech.
“When I got down to the final four I started to wonder how far I could have gotten last year if I hadn't missed that word,” Sorin said. “This is actually only my second year doing this. I only get two more but I just can’t believe it.”