Arlington speller has strong showing but misses out on bee semifinals

WASHINGTON -- Arlington speller Mark de los Santos, 11, fell short of his dream of advancing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, missing out on today's semifinals despite a strong showing in two rounds.

Mark correctly spelled countenance and iscariotic, meaning traitorous or treacherous, during the spelling bee at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

But he didn't make the semifinals because he scored too low on the Round 1 written test, which is used to limit the field to no more than 50 spellers.

In the preliminaries, contestants receive three points for each word spelled correctly but are not eliminated for misspelled words.

Instead, bee officials combine those points with scores from a typed test taken in the first round Wednesday.

The combined score determined who would enter the semifinals.

The remaining 50 contestants will return to the stage today.

Mark was one of 274 spellers from around the world competing for a grand prize valued at over $40,000.

But to the Holy Rosary Catholic School sixth-grader, who is sponsored by the Star-Telegram, there was more to the reward than monetary value.

"I want to have more experience, and I want my vocabulary to grow stronger," Mark said.

Maria de los Santos, Mark's mother, said she and Mark watch the bee every year.

Some might think that this would put a lot of pressure on a child, but when it came time for Mark to take the stage, he stood patiently in line, gazing at the audience, awaiting his turn.

As the speller in front of him finished, he walked calmly to the microphone with his fingers intertwined in front of him and waited as the announcer told him to spell countenance and, later, iscariotic.

Without hesitation, he asked for the word's definition, sentence use, pronunciation variations and part of speech, each time with the same polite manner, and then he spelled them correctly.

He and his mother have worked tirelessly to prepare for the event, juggling Scouting, fencing and swimming.

"I wish that we had more time, but with his activities it's tough," Maria de los Santos said.

Apart from spelling, Mark is working on achieving Star Rank, the third-highest awarded for youth by the Boy Scouts of America.

He said he hopes to attain the highest rank, Eagle Scout, by age 12.