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Sixth-grader front-runner of spelling bee with 'bellwether'

SARANAC - They came, they saw, they spelled.

Sixty-two students from 28 schools throughout the tri-county area participated in the 2009 Champlain Valley Educational Services Regional Spelling Bee at Saranac Middle School Feb. 27. The participants, who ranged in grade level from fourth through eighth, went round after round spelling multisyllablic word after multisyllablic word. Expressions on their faces ranged from those of shear relief to those of shear terror as difficulty increased from words like "reptile" and "noodle" in earlier rounds to words like "limitrophe" and "elegiacal."

The competition went 11 rounds until Leo Lee, a sixth-grader from the Plattsburgh City School District, correctly spelled "apocryphal," after words given to his remaining opponents, Saranac Central School District students Sarah Mihuc and Nelson Moore - last year's winner - were misspelled. Ironically, the final word that clinched the championship for Leo was "bellwether," which, as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it, is "one that takes the lead."

"It feels awesome," Leo said about his win. "Most of the words were really hard, but that last one I already knew."

"I saw him smile," said Leo's mother, Deborah Lee, adding she knew her son would be able to spell the word when she heard it.

Leo's father, Jason Lee, said he was proud of how his son didn't seem nervous during the competition, even in the hours leading up to the event.

"He actually performed with extreme confidence," said Mr. Lee.

Leo, who was first runner-up in the regional spelling bee last year, was studying very hard over the past few months, said Mr. Lee, going as far as watching videotapes of national spelling bees over the last 10 years.

"There were many words he could spell," Mr. Lee said, referring to words featured in the past national spelling bees, "so we thought he would do quite well. This year, his hard work really paid off."

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