FORT WORTH -- Years of studying the mechanics of language helped 13-year-old word whiz Mark De Los Santos win the regional spelling bee Wednesday, giving him the right to advance to nationals.
After the runner-up misspelled litany, De Los Santos was given a word he didn't recognize: retrocedence, which means giving back territory.
"I felt really anxious and my heart was really pounding because it was a really pivotal moment," said De Los Santos, an eighth-grader at Holy Rosary Catholic School in Arlington. "I had not really studied it before, but I used my knowledge of Latin roots to solve it."
De Los Santos went on to correctly spell desertification, the process of land becoming desert. He won a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., which starts May 27.
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Benjamin Benjadol, 11, of Wilshire Elementary School in Euless, finished second.
This will be De Los Santos' second trip to nationals; he won the regional contest in 2010 as a sixth-grader. He was eliminated before the semifinals that year because he scored too low on a written test that is part of the preliminaries.
Students from 456 schools in 16 counties competed in the TCU College of Education Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Star-Telegram. Twenty-five qualified for the regional bee by winning their campus bee and then their district or area bee.
Some students tripped over words they clearly knew how to spell, such as newfangled. Christian McClain, 13, of Granbury Middle School started "n-e-u" and then realized his mistake.
"Oh, shoot," he said, and walked off the stage before judges rang the bell to indicate the misspelling.
Lexi Freeman, 12, visualized the letters in symmetrical with her finger.
She traced the word on her palm, then in the air. Still not sure, she turned over the identification card hanging around her neck to write out the letters.
Freeman, a seventh-grader at North Richland Middle School in North Richland Hills, slowly spelled the word aloud, her voice rising to a question mark as she finished.
"It's right?" she asked the judges as the audience laughed.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326