NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – You might say that at the start, it seemed Wednesday was going to be a pond of nenuphars for Andrew Erdman. Or a jamboree, maybe.
Andrew, The Buffalo News’ contestant in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, correctly spelled “nenuphar” – another more sophisticated, tricky and annoying word for water lily – during his first appearance on stage here Wednesday.
He then went on to spell “jamboree” – a huge celebration, like a hillbilly hoedown or a big gathering of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts – in the next round.
But at the end of the day, after the judges combined those on-stage results with those of a written exam that the spellers took the day before, it turned out that Andrew didn’t qualify as one of the 46 semifinalists who will move on to the second day of competition Thursday.
Andrew, 14, an eighth-grader at SS. Peter & Paul School in Williamsville, said afterward that he knew that he had struggled with the written spelling and vocabulary exam, which was jampacked with words that the typical journalist might not be able to spell without copying them directly from the Spelling Bee website, such as metatarsal, tamborito and ritenuto.
Nevertheless, the difficulty of the written exam didn’t stop Andrew from shining on stage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. Andrew not only knew the spelling and meaning of the first word he had to spell, but he knew the others from the 281 spellers on stage at the start of the day, too.
“The whole list, I basically knew all the words’ definitions,” he said.
And it’s no wonder. Andrew said he’s been studying for at least an hour a day for three or four months now.
“I find him a lot of times in front of the table, he’s got his big Merriam-Webster dictionary out, and he’s sitting there writing down the words, doing the definitions,” said Andrew’s father, William Erdman. “He’s very self-motivated.”
Of course, there’s no motivator quite like sibling rivalry.
Asked why he was so dedicated to participating in the Bee, Andrew said: “My brother and sister had been in the Buffalo Spelling Bee, and my brother came close to winning, so I kind of just wanted to beat him.”
In fact, Andrew has already beaten his brother, William, who finished third in the 2011 Buffalo News Spelling Bee and fourth in 2009, and his sister Caroline, who challenged him in the contest to represent his school in this year’s Buffalo Bee. His other sister, Victoria, was one of 20 finalists in the 2007 Buffalo Bee.
Andrew finished first in the local Bee in March, propelling him on to the national competition, where his parents looked on proudly today.
“We’re learning something along the way, too,” noted Andrew’s mother, Nancy. “We’re learning to pronounce these words.”