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National Spelling Bee run ends in sixth round for teen from Goodyear

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WASHINGTON – Sumaita Mulk was one of 21 students left standing in the sixth round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday when she met her match – the word “quatour,” a French word for a quartet.

The Goodyear teen knew she was in trouble, and even jokingly said, “Bless you,” after the pronouncer read quatour. Then she gave it her best shot: “q-u-a-t-u-o-r-e.”

The bell rang, indicating she had misspelled the word. Sumaita smiled and shrugged. She walked off stage, where she was comforted by her father and a family friend.

“I knew I probably missed it,” Sumaita said afterward. “I just guessed.”

Sumaita, a seventh-grader at the Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy in Glendale, was one of 50 students in the National Spelling Bee semifinals that began Thursday morning, winnowed down from more than 270 the day before.

Among the semifinalists were several national bee veterans – it was Sumaita’s first appearance – and the sister of the 2009 winner.

Sumaita correctly spelled “hinoki” and “psychrophyte” to get through the fourth and fifth rounds Thursday, before falling in the sixth. She was one of 12 ousted in the sixth round, leaving only nine students for the finals.

Despite the loss, Tazul Mulk, who helped Sumaita practice for the bee, said he was “thrilled” with his daughter’s performance.

“She exceeded our expectations,” Mulk said. “We were hoping she’d make it to the semifinals and she did.”

Sumaita qualified for the national bee by winning her school, district and regional bees before winning the Arizona Spelling Bee in April.

She said she practiced for one to two hours per day in the months leading up to the bee. Her father compiled a spreadsheet of spelling words that he found online, in dictionaries, in books and from a list that national bee organizers sent out.

“I’ve noticed that Sumaita enjoys practicing her spelling words over the piano and other things,” he said.

Mulk said a book of words written by a former National Spelling Bee champion was particularly helpful to Sumaita because it also offered words judges have favored over the years, and pronunciation tips.

Even though Sumaita’s hours of practice led her to be one of the top spellers in the country this year, she attributed a lot of her success this week to luck.

“It’s a big luck thing,” she said. “I knew most of the words that the others got.”

Like so many of her fellow spellers at the bee, Sumaita traced each word out on the back of her hand before trying to spell it for the judges. She said the tactic helps to see the correct spelling of the word in her head.

“I have to visualize the word or else I mess up,” Sumaita said.

Although this was her first national bee appearance, Sumaita, 13, is unsure if she will be eligible to return next year. Spellers must be 15 or younger and may not have passed beyond eighth grade by Feb. 1, 2013.

Sumaita heads home to Goodyear on Saturday, but not before a tour of Washington, D.C., with the other bee participants and a banquet held in their honor. She said she is looking forward to both, and enjoyed the experience of the competition. Mostly.

“I feel good,” Sumaita said. “But it would have been nice if I had made it to the finals.”