Takoma Park teen makes national stage as county’s top speller -- Gazette.Net


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Hungarian composer Franz Liszt may have originated the symphonic poem, but 13-year-old Calvin Liu of Takoma Park Middle School has the famous composer to thank for getting bumped out of a national spelling bee.

Calvin, an eighth-grader, tripped over a word based on Liszt’s name at the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 30 during the computer spelling portion of the contest.

His overall score was not high enough to continue to the semifinal round.

“You could have scored 36 points and the cutoff [for moving on] was 32. I got 31,” Calvin said. “The word was Lisztian and I switched the z and the s.”

This year’s Spelling Bee scoring was a bit different than prior years. For the first time, the Scripps National Bee incorporated the evaluation of vocabulary knowledge as an element of the competition, according to a press release from the E.W. Scripps Company, which operates the Bee.

“This year, the competition will base a speller’s qualifications for the Semifinals and Championship Finals on a cumulative score that incorporates onstage spelling, computer-based spelling questions and computer-based vocabulary questions,” according to the release.

Calvin’s father, Ke Liu, said Calvin’s sister, who is a pianist, was “quite upset” about the incorrect spelling of Liszt.

Calvin said it was his sister that got him interested in the spelling competition.

“When I was in elementary school, my sister was in a local spelling bee and got second place,” he said. “That sparked my interest.”

He said he is an avid reader and he and his father worked together to prepare for the competition from the spelling list provided by Scripps.

“We worked on that list in the car on the way to school,” Ke Liu said. “Mostly studying, roots, prefixes and suffixes.”

Though Calvin is not eligible for next year’s spelling bee because the cutoff is eighth grade, he said he stayed and watched the end of the competition and kept a journal of the words, spelling them along with the competitors to see how he would do. He said he got about 60 percent of the final words correct.

“It was a great experience,” Calvin said. “I got to meet a lot of people and to know what it was like to be in a national competition and on TV.”

Eleven students from Maryland participated in this year’s competition at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, but Calvin was the only one from Montgomery County. He won the honor of representing the county at the Montgomery County Scripps Regional Bee March 2 at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Bethesda.

The 2013 National Spelling Bee winner was Arvind Mahankali, 13, an eighth-grader from Bayside Hills, New York.