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Tucson teen’s run ends in National Spelling Bee semifinals

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WASHINGTON – Christopher O’Connor made it further than he ever thought he would in the National Spelling Bee, but the Tucson seventh-grader knew it was all over the minute he heard his first word Thursday.


It is defined as “having a soft consistency,” according to, but it might as well have been a foreign language to Christopher.

“I didn’t know it,” he said later. “I was, like, please give me a clue.”

He asked the judges as many questions as he was allowed, including the word’s language of origin, but he said it didn’t help. He spelled the word – “pultatious.”

And just like that, he was out, eliminated on the very first question of the semifinal round.

“I didn’t want to be the first one,” Christopher said. “If I lost, I would be considered last place in the round.”

The quick exit from the round of 42 semifinalists ended months of constant preparation for the 13-year-old student at St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic School in Tucson.

He was competing in only his first Scripps National Spelling Bee and was surprised to beat hundreds of Arizona students to become one of two teens from the state to advance to the national contest. Competition began Wednesday with 281 youths, who were narrowed down to 42 semifinalists – including Christopher.

He said he had taken it easy the night before Thursday’s semifinals, knowing that the competition would only get more difficult. Unlike preliminary rounds, there are no study lists in the semifinals, the words get harder and the pressure is more intense.

And Christopher knew he was scheduled to be the first semifinalist to spell.

But he said he doesn’t regret his approach.

“I just relaxed and didn’t worry,” he said. “Worrying doesn’t help.”

He was similarly unfazed by his spelling of pultaceous.

“There were a lot of different ways to spell it … It didn’t really matter,” he said. “Not many people know it.”

His goal all along had been to make it to semifinals, even though he concedes that he thought that was farfetched. When he made the cut, his oldest sister, Jennifer said she was “really, really, really happy for him.”

Now that it’s over, the O’Connor family plans to spend a couple days sightseeing in Washington. But the family, which was in Washington to cheer him on, knows that Christopher’s mind is not ready to let go.

“There’s always next year,” said Christopher’s mother, Carol, of the advice she would give her son.

Christopher aims to return to the semifinals next year, but he knows it will require a lot of work.

“Study, study, study,” he said of his plan to prepare for the 2014 bee. “Practice, practice, practice.”

But Christopher said he’s also going to enjoy his summer.

“I think I’m going to do some work,” he said. “But I won’t be a bookworm and read a dictionary all day.”