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Goodyear teen survives early rounds, to get to National Spelling Bee semifinals

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WASHINGTON – A Goodyear teen advanced to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee with 50 other spellers Wednesday, outlasting 228 students in the first three rounds of competition near Washington, D.C.

Sumaita Mulk, 13, correctly spelled the words “regale” and “zapateado” in the second and third rounds of the bee to move on.

“I was just like, ‘Yes!’” Sumaita said. “I’d had both words before, but the first is way more common.”

Another Arizona teen, Aarish Raza, of Chinle, won the Navajo Nation spelling bee to get to the national competition, but he was eliminated Wednesday evening.

Aarish, a seventh grader at Chinle Junior High, correctly spelled the words “vettura” and “alcazar” during Wednesday’s competition, but did not get enough words right in the first round to advance.

“All that are here are winners,” said Mohammad Raza, Aarish’s father. “Aarish did his best and that’s all we care about.”

It was the first appearance at the national bee for both Arizona teens, who said they practiced one to two hours a day in the months leading up to the competition.

The spellers were given a computer-based spelling test during Tuesday’s preliminary round in which they had to spell 50 words. Only 25 of those words counted toward their scores, however, and contestants did not know which counted and which did not. Bee officials had chosen the “score words” on a previous date.

First-round words were worth a point each and second- and third-round words were worth three each, for a total possible score of 31 points. That score determined who moved on to the semifinals.

Paige Kimble, director of the bee, told the crowd she believed this year’s competition was more difficult than last year’s. Whereas five children spelled all of their words correctly last year, only one did this year.

Sumaita was anxious about her chances of advancing after spelling 17 out of 25 first-round words correctly. She became more hopeful after correctly spelling her second- and third-round words: Regale, a Middle French word meaning to entertain sumptuously, and zapateado, a Spanish word for a flamenco dance marked with rhythmic stamping of the feet.

Sumaita, a seventh-grader at Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy in Glendale, won her school, district and regional bees before winning the Arizona Spelling Bee in April and advancing to the nationals.

She said she spelled because at first her school required her to do so, but became more interested in spelling when she found out about the incentives, such as cash prizes and “being famous.”

Both she and Aarish said they are looking forward to a tour of Washington, D.C., that all the bee participants are invited to attend.

But first, Sumaita will compete in the semifinals Thursday morning. In that round, spellers are bounced as soon as they misspell a word. If Sumaita spells all her words correctly, she will advance to the finals Thursday night.

“I was so excited I didn’t even know what to do,” she said, after learning she was moving on.