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WINNER STANDS UP TO THE TEST IN BUFFALO NEWS SPELLING BEE

Michael Dziomba wasn't sitting when he stepped to the microphone Sunday and correctly spelled the word "sedentary" to win the 71st annual Buffalo News Spelling Bee.

The 13-year-old eighth-grader in the North Tonawanda School District's Reszel Middle School clearly knew how to think on his feet.

Michael beat 19 of the top spellers from the eight counties of Western New York during the oral competition, which was held in the auditorium of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Museum. The local champion is headed for an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national finals in late May.

Michael remained surefooted throughout 29 rounds of vexing spelling challenges -- even during a pitched battle with last year's runner-up, Benjamin Nelson, a tough and worthy competitor in seventh grade at Iroquois Middle School.

In the 25th round of the competition, Michael and Benjamin were the only spellers remaining after William Smith, an eighth-grader at Nativity of Our Lord School, misspelled the word "carotid" -- the chief artery that passes up the neck to supply blood to the head.

The two duked it out over five more rounds, tackling such toughies as "ineffable," "variegated" and "whirligig."

Benjamin stumbled on "undulate," but when it was Michael's turn, he nailed it. Next, Michael stood up to "sedentary," nailed that, too, and the championship.

"I just tried to stay calm. I didn't think about getting nervous," Michael said afterward.

The champ's parents, Robert and Julie Dziomba, likewise held it all in until the final round, when Mrs. Dziomba shed tears of happiness.

"I was really tense the whole while, but I didn't want Michael to know," she said.

Michael's parents watched the competition intently, along with his sister, Theresa, 14, and brothers Christopher, 12, and James, 9, all seated in the front two rows of the auditorium. Also cheering Michael on was his coach, Brenda Daigler, a sixth-grade teacher at Reszel.

"Michael showed a natural talent and dedication," Mrs. Daigler said.

In addition to the local title, Michael will receive a $100 cash award, $50 in pocket money for his all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., a copy of Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary and its Addenda section, and an engraved pen and pencil set.

For the second consecutive year, Benjamin Nelson was declared the runner-up and the contestant with the highest score on the written spelling test.

Other winners were William Smith, third place; Athena Fingers, an eighth-grader at Springville-Griffith Institute Middle School, fourth, and Amanda Heim, an eighth-grader at Pavilion Central School in Genesee County, fifth.

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