San Diego Union-Tribune

June 1, 2001

Jamul girl felled by 'phylactery' in round 5 of national spelldown

By Brianna Sannella-Willis

WASHINGTON -- Nervously gripping the microphone under the glare of television cameras, 13-year-old Morgan Diefenbach of Jamul took a stab at spelling the word "phylactery."

"P-h-i-l-i-a-c-t-e-r-y," she said.

But the dreaded bell rang, signaling her fall in the fifth round of the
74th annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in the nation's capitol.

Although Morgan, an eighth-grader from Oak Grove Middle School, had
never heard the word, she tried to battle her way through by asking the
pronouncer a string of questions.

"Are there any other alternate pronunciations?" she asked.

Then, "What is the definition?"

Either of two small square leather boxes containing slips inscribed
with scriptural passages and traditionally worn on the left arm and on the
head by Jewish men during morning weekday prayers, she was told.

Morgan's father, Andy, praised her effort.

"She asked some good questions and just went for it," he said.

Despite her fall from competition, Morgan and her father were happy she
made it to the fifth round.

"I've gotten as far as I'd ever dreamed," she said after spelling the
word "caballero" correctly in the fourth round.

Of the 248 students who began the competition Tuesday, only 34 advanced to round five.

Ten spellers were knocked out in round five by words such as
"strephosymbolia," "naumachia," "trabeated," "brujo" and "rictus."

"Lapidicolous," "Afrikaans," "Svengali" and "borzoi" were spelled
successfully in the round.

After 15 rounds yesterday, with spellers tackling words such as
"reliquiae" and "shadenfreude," 13-year-old Sean Conley of Aitkin, Minn., who taught himself to spell at age 2, was crowned champion of the national bee.

Conley won by spelling "succedaneum," which means "one that comes after and takes another's place."

Conley, who was the second-place winner last year, will receive $10,000
from Scripps Howard, along with prizes from Encyclopaedia Britannica
and Merriam-Webster.