It was just a matter of a couple of vowels and the letter “r” that forced Minnesota’s final contestant from Thursday afternoon’s semifinal round of the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee in suburban Washington, D.C.
Emma Greenlee, 14, of Mesabi East High School, in Aurora, was among the 42 who advanced to the semis and hoped for a spot in the final round Thursday night, televised live on ESPN’s main channel.
But the word “sarrusophone,” which is a member of family of wind instruments, tripped Greenlee, who plays french horn and violin. She spelled it “serusiphone.”
Earlier, she had little trouble with her first word of the day.
Following several rivals who were ousted in the semifinals before she took her place, Greenlee correctly spelled “joculator,” the word for a wandering entertainer of medieval Europe who for hire practiced the arts of minstrelsy, narration, dancing, juggling and mime.
As the semifinals progressed, the field shrank sharply to 28.
More than 280 spellers started out in the three-day bee, with five from Minnesota. The other four were eliminated before the semifinals, being telecast on ESPN3.
Minnesota has had one national spelling champion: 13-year-old Sean Conley of Shakopee, in 2001.
This year’s champion wins $30,000 in cash, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, $2,000 worth of reference materials and a huge trophy.
On Wednesday, Greenlee correctly spelled “asthmogenic” and “japery” to move past the second round.
A competitive Nordic skier who has qualified for the state championships the past two years, she also competed in the national bee last year, falling short of the semifinals.
Greenlee is also a member of the high school soccer and track teams and participates in the Knowledge Bowl.
On Tuesday, all of the kids plowed through spelling and vocabulary testing on a computer. Wednesday was the first day that all the spellers were gathered together on stage in hopes of picking the right letters — in the right order — and be spared the dreaded “ding” that signals their demise.