Arlington eighth-grader Mark De Los Santos was cool and confident Wednesday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. After all, it is his second trip to the nationals.
And, he said, he knew both words that he was asked to spell onstage in the cavernous ballroom of the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center -- reparations in the second round and arenicolous (which means growing or burrowing in sand) in the third.
But he took no chances. He still asked for everything there was to ask for -- definition, language of origin, part of speech and to have it used in a sentence.
"I kept myself calm" by asking for all the help available, he said.
"You want to make sure this is a word you're going to spell" correctly, he said. "I didn't want to be incautious."
De Los Santos, 13, was one of 50 spellers to advance to today's semifinals from a field of 278.
"It feels good," he said as he walked off the stage. "I'm really happy."
Before the two spoken rounds, spellers took a 50-word computer test. Advancement to the semifinals depended on a combination of scores of that test and the oral rounds.
Only one semifinalist advanced with a perfect score -- Vanya Shivashankar, 10, of Olathe, Kan. Vanya's sister, Kavya, won the 2009 national bee. On Wednesday, the fifth-grader spelled debellation and auteur with obvious ease, and she got all 25 scored words right on the computer test, including semelparous and outrecuidance.
Vanya is part of a customarily strong contingent of Indian-Americans in the semifinals. Spellers of Indian descent have won four years in a row and nine of the last 13 years, a run that began when Nupur Lala captured the crown in 1999 and was featured in the documentary Spellbound.
The speller who has attracted the most media attention is 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison of northern Virginia, the youngest speller in the history of the competition. Lori Anne, who is featured on TV ads promoting ESPN's coverage, did not advance to the semifinals. In the third round, she misspelled ingluvies, which she started with an "e," and her score on the computer test wasn't enough to make up the difference.
De Los Santos attends Holy Rosary Catholic School in Arlington. He was accompanied to nationals by his mother, Meg; father, Gerome; and sister Gemma.
The champion will win a $30,000 cash prize, trophy, a $2,500 savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship and other prizes, including the final print edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The semifinals will be aired starting at 9 a.m. today on ESPN2. The finals start at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
This report includes material from The Associated Press.