GOLD COAST — Twelve-year-old Zander Patent didn't make it to semifinals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee Wednesday, despite spelling "virgule" and "blottesque" correctly during each round of qualifiers at the nation's most esteemed spelling competition in Washington, D.C.
The sixth-grade student at the Latin School of Chicago spelled both words correctly Wednesday afternoon to sail through preliminaries, outlasting Abraham Lincoln Elementary eighth-grader Annie Scholl, the only other participant from Chicago.
Scholl misspelled "belomancy" in the third round and was disqualified.
But Patent was bumped in the offstage spelling and vocabulary test, administered before contestants took the stage, that ultimately narrowed down the list of 239 spellers to 50.
Patent's mother said as the results were announced and her son saw his number missing from the qualifying list, he probably wasn't disappointed. If anything, he's now more determined than ever to make it back next year and advance further.
"He's very realistic," Amy Trachtenberg-Patent said Wednesday. "He's like, I really want to advance, I'll be upset if I don't, but I know that the chances are pretty slim ... but I'll come back next year, I'll be ready, and I'm going to win."
Patent, a cross country runner at Latin who memorized the first 43 digits of pi for fun, is an avid speller, but this was his first time at the national competition. The Lincoln Park resident has attended the private Gold Coast school for two years since his family moved to Chicago from Las Vegas for his father's work in the casino business.
Latin's previous spelling star, Simon Ricci, made it to the second round of semifinals at Scripps last year, his second time at the national competition. Trachtenberg-Patent says her son was inspired to take spelling seriously after signing up for a Latin bee on a whim and coming in second place, just behind Ricci.
Ricci, who aged out of this year's competition, has since fallen into his new role: coaching his classmate to success.
"It's a small enough school where everybody knew as soon as Zander qualified, and we're very fortunate that we have a really supportive student community and the teachers as well," Latin school spokeswoman Evelyne Girardet said. "[Ricci], who is now in high school but competed last year and the year before at the national bee, has been working with Zander and helping him on the way."
Latin students gathered during their class breaks Wednesday to watch Patent advance through preliminaries, cheering when speller number 59 was congratulated by the judges in round three.
Hours later, Scripps announced the lightning-round semifinal qualifiers chosen to advance to Thursday's competition based on computer-based testing of spelling and vocabulary.
"It's a tough test," Trachtenberg-Patent said. "They basically told us about the vocabulary portion six weeks ago, which is a very short time to prepare for that, especially if you're a new speller. ... We're so happy with how he did today. We couldn't be happier. It's been an amazing family experience."