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Hathaway Brown Student Makes Run in National Spelling Bee

Cleveland Heights eighth-grader falls just before semifinals.

Isabella Nilsson's journey ended Wednesday at the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee held in Prince George's County, MD.

Nilsson, who was sponsored by The Plain Dealer, faltered in the third round of competition, just short of the semifinals.

After correctly spelling "fusillade" in the second round, she stumbled in the next round on "jamrosade" -- the fruit of the rose apple -- by adding an unwanted 'e' to make it "jamroseade." 

"I think I'm a pretty good speller, but I am not at the same level or intensity as the other kids," the Hathaway Brown eighth-grader admitted shortly before her last round began.

The first round had nearly 300 students take a computerized spelling test with 50 words, of which only 25 would be scored. Then, in the two live rounds, each speller had two chances to test their skills in front of a crowd of 500 audience members. A correctly spelled word in this round earned the contestants three points.

Each contestant could earn up to 31 points. Once the preliminary rounds were over, spelling bee officials tallied and announced the results to the nervous contestants. Those who went to the semifinals and survived were to compete in the finals Thursday evening.

The tension of the competition was sometimes diffused by the joviality of young contestants, who broke the ice with the pronouncer by greeting him with a “Howdy!” or asking, “May I have an easier word?"

When not spelling, Nilsson, of Cleveland Heights, said she likes reading, writing, softball and hanging out with friends. Spelling practice took about an hour day.

"I just go over things again and again," she said. "That, and I need to listen to the word over and over."

Her appearance in the bee, however, almost didn't happen. She was originally an alternate contestant stepping in for another student who withdrew from competition at the Cuyahoga County level. 

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