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UMES 'spellebrity' shined in the national spotlight

  • Thursday, May 30, 2013

    OXON HILL, MD - (May 29, 2013) - Khaled Mohamed, the Bennett Middle School student who won the inaugural Maryland Eastern Shore Spelling Bee, finished in a tie for 43rd at the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

    The 13-year-old seventh-grader from Salisbury was among 281 elementary and middle school competitors vying to be named the nation's top speller.

    For the first time in the event's 86-year history, a vocabulary test was administered to assist in identifying up to 50 spellers who also had to survive two traditional elimination rounds where competitors demonstrated their spelling prowess before a crowd in a large auditorium.

    Photo courtesy of the Scripps National Spelling Bee - 2013

    Khaled Mohamed at the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee

    In his two elimination rounds, Khaled correctly spelled "archipelago" and "brilliantine" without batting any eye - or asking the pronouncer for additional information as many competitors often do.

    Afterward, he modestly shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't need help because knew how both words were spelled.

    In a section of the written test made public, Khaled demonstrated he knew the definitions of two words that only he was given - "patina" and "umami."

    Competitors who misspelled words during the preliminary rounds were eliminated automatically no matter their vocabulary test performance.

    Only 42 of this year's competitors qualified to move on to the semi-final round after organizers also took into account vocabulary test scores to break ties.

    Even though Khaled fell just short of qualifying as a semi-finalist, he and his mother, Sarah Jamell, agreed the opportunity to compete had been a worthwhile and went off to celebrate by dining on his favorite food, sushi. No word whether he found the dish umami - savory.

    To qualify for the 2013 National Spelling Bee, Khaled bested 46 other spellers from public and private schools in Somerset and Wicomico counties to win a regional competition held March 9 at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

    UMES was among 13 universities that sponsored competitors at the 2013 event, and the lone historically black institution.

    Khaled, who wants to be a lawyer, said he saw words in a study guide he used to prepare for the national bee that he was familiar with from reading the series of Harry Potter books.

    National Spelling Bee organizers told local competition sponsors that the vocabulary test was introduced to broaden the long-term educational impact their event has on students who invest so much time and energy in preparations.

    "What an amazing experience this has been," Jamell said. It "has been so positive for Khaled's future. He's already talking about next year."

    Spelling bee rules allow students to compete through the eighth grade. The national champion each year automatically retires from competition.

    The national spelling winner receives a $30,000 cash prize from Scripps, a $2,500 savings bond from dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster and $2,000 worth of study materials from Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Scripps, the national sponsor, estimates 11 million students were competitors during the 2012-13 school year. Two “spellebrities,” as Scripps calls all national bee participants, competed in the event four previous times. Two were siblings of previous winners.

    In an unexpected consolation prize, Khaled sat on stage during the televised championship round. He was chosen randomly to represent the 11 competitors from Maryland, none of whom moved on from the preliminary rounds.

    UPDATE: (May 30, 2013) - Arvind Mahankali of Bayside, N.Y., correctly spelled "'knaidel" - a small mass of leavened dough - to win the 2013 National Spelling Bee. He had been a finalist the three previous years.

    BILL ROBINSON, director, public relations office, (410) 621-2355.