Spellers battle butterflies before big bee

CanWest News Service
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St. John's speller Anna Henley.  Telegram file photo

The day before the big spelling bee is a day like any other for many of these 21 young finalists from across the country.
Except for maybe some bee-eve nerves - but Matthew MacDonald knows how to get rid of those.
"Pretend you're pulling the wings off the butterflies in your stomach and it works a little bit," said the 12-year-old from Kinkora, P.E.I.
After spending close to a week happily bouncing from tourist site to tourist site in Ottawa, the competitors for the sixth annual Canwest Canspell National Spelling Bee were reminded Saturday, during an afternoon rehearsal, of why they are here.
And that, of course, is to spell some pretty difficult words.
The winner of Sunday's competition, presented by Canada Post, will be awarded a $15,000 education prize from the Egg Farmers of Canada and a trip to Washington, D.C., in June to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The Canwest Canspell bee will air live Sunday at 10 a.m. ET, on www.canspell.com, and again on Global Television and NTV on April 3.
Some of the participating students from grades 4 to 8 have been keeping up with their studying while in town.
Will Friesen, 12, from Vernon, B.C., spent most of Saturday practising his pronunciation with his mother.
"You can be confident - but not too confident," said the Grade 7 student, who learned to read when he was three.
"I just make sure I'm not like - 'OK, I got this, it's in the bag.' That's when you start making mistakes."
Still, while most competitors were readying themselves for a final night of fun - including taking in an Ottawa Senators hockey game - it was, in fact, their parents who said they feel nervous during competitions.
"Sometimes, I don't want to watch," said Shashi Skinner, whose daughter, 13-year-old Jasmine from Kamloops, B.C., is competing.
"It's just as bad as overtime in hockey."
Dalton Newcombe, the father of last year's national winner, 11-year-old Laura, said parents end up rooting for every kid.
"When you're watching any child, you start hoping that nobody gets anything wrong," he said.
For their part, most of the spellers said they've spent the past few days ignoring the pressure, and simply having fun with their fellow spellers.
"You don't actually feel like you're competing against each other - you feel like friends," said 13-year-old Robert Lahoud, from Windsor, Ont., who just the other day, was regaling his new companions with Spoonerisms - a switch-em'-up word game he picked up on the appropriately titled funwithwords.com.
"I've been slacking off on studying," he admitted.

The complete list of spellers participating in the 2009 Canwest Canspell National Spelling Bee:
Laura Weir, Grade 7, age 13, Victoria Times Colonist
Scott Xiao, Grade 7, age 11, Vancouver Sun
Cynthia Dykhuisen, Grade 7, age 12, Prince George Citizen
Jasmine Skinner, Grade 8, age 13, Kamloops Daily News
Will Friesen, Grade 7, age 12, Okanagan Valley Newspaper Group
Jared Barron, Grade 8, age 13, Edmonton Journal
Preetha Gopalakrishnan, Grade 7, age 12, Calgary Herald
Adrienne Gomes, Grade 8, age 13, Lethbridge Herald
Vincent McRorie, Grade 7, age 12, Saskatoon StarPhoenix
McKenzie Warriner, Grade 8, age 13, Regina Leader-Post
Josh Mathews, Grade 5, age 10, Winnipeg Free Press
Anthony Tassone, Grade 4, age 9, Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal
Laura Newcombe, Grade 7, age 11, National Post
Robert Lahoud, Grade 8, age 13 Windsor Star
Anna Lawrence, Grade 6, age 11, Ottawa Citizen
Christopher Scarvelis, Grade 8, age 13, Montreal Gazette
Margaret Foley, Grade 8, age 13, Saint John Telegraph Journal
Hannah Cameron, Grade 7, age 12 Halifax Chronicle-Herald
Claudine Broussard, Grade 8, age 14, Cape Breton Post
Matthew MacDonald, Grade 6, age 12, Charlottetown Guardian
Anna Henley, Grade 8, age 13 St. John's Telegram

Organizations: Canwest, Canada Post, Global Television Ottawa Senators Daily News Edmonton Journal National Post Montreal Gazette

Geographic location: Ottawa, Kinkora, Kamloops Canada Washington, D.C. Vernon Windsor Victoria Vancouver Okanagan Valley Calgary Saskatoon Winnipeg Thunder Bay Saint John Cape Breton Charlottetown St. John's

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