WALNUT CREEK -- A San Ramon eighth-grader will compete for a national spelling title in May as the top finisher from a field of 118 at the 37th Annual Contra Costa County Spelling Bee on Saturday.
Audrey Bantug, who attends Iron Horse Middle School, was one of two contestants who survived an initial written portion of the competition without misspelling a word.
As one of the top two seeds among the 10 finalists who moved on to an oral competition, she won a duel with Vincent Chen, a sixth-grader at Edna Hill Middle School in Brentwood, to win the title.
Bantug spelled the words "idiochromatic," a mineral that derives its color from absorbing light rays, and "cetology," the study of whales, correctly after Chen missed on "temerarious," meaning reckless or rash.
Bantug misspelled just one word, "oriel," a large bay window, among dozens she faced in both the written and oral portions of the grueling two-and-a-half hour competition.
She and a companion will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 28-30 paid for by the Contra Costa Times.
Bantug also received a Webster's unabridged dictionary and a $100 savings bond. All 10 finalists received trophies.
Bantug said she studied words with the help of her parents from a list provided by spelling bee sponsors for six weeks before the competition.
She said her favorite subjects are math and English and she would someday like to make use of her spelling skills as a fiction writer.
Two of her hobbies are reading, naturally, and looking up new words in the dictionary.
In the initial written portion of the spelling bee, the 118 competitors wrote down the words they were asked to spell and the spelling was checked by a team of monitors.
Each competitor was allowed to misspell four words before being eliminated.
This year the competition was so intense it took about a half-hour longer than usual to whittle the field down to 10 finalists, according to Judge Peggy Marshburn, who said she's worked on about 30 of the county competitions.
"We had to start using words that weren't on their study list (to speed things up)," Marshburn said.
Four of the 10 finalists will be entered in two state spelling championships. Chen and Sam Cruz of Adams Middle School in Brentwood will advance to the state elementary school championships in Stockton on April 20.
Erin Wenokur, a seventh-grader at Dorris-Eaton School in Walnut Creek, and Raqeeb Chang, a seventh-grader at Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, will compete at the state junior high championships in San Rafael on May 11.
Chen and Cruz finished second and third on Saturday, while Wenokur and Chang were fifth and sixth.