A broken spell: Chandler teen just misses National Spelling Bee finals

Marcus Behling, 13, appeared relaxed through most of the nerve-wracking spelling bee, as he was here during the fifth round Thursday. (Photo by Nick Wicksman)

Chandler eighth-grader Marcus Behling takes his turn at the microphone during the semifinals of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Photo by Nick Wicksman)

The field continued to thin around Marcus Behling, here in the sixth round, which would be his last round as he did not make the cut for the finals. (Photo by Nick Wicksman)

Sheryl Behling hugs her son Marcus after he learned he did not make the cut for the finals of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Photo by Nick Wicksman)

WASHINGTON – Even in defeat, Marcus Behling was cool and collected.

The Chandler eighth-grader cruised through two days of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee this week, calmly spelling words as the field was narrowed from 285 spellers to 21 by the end of the sixth round Thursday.

But Marcus’ knowledge and calm demeanor were not enough to advance him to the final group of 10 spellers competing for the national championship Thursday evening.

He spelled every word right – including “apivorous” and “vernissage” Thursday – but had an inkling that his scores on a written part of the bee might not be enough.

“As soon as I spelled my word I was glad it was over,” Marcus said. The Arizona College Prep student said he was disappointed he didn’t make it to the final round, but proud he came as far as he did.

ICE Air graphic

Click on the graphic for details about 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants by age, gender, more. (Cronkite News graphic by Aubrey Rumore)

He outlasted more than the 264 spellers who were eliminated before him at the bee this week – more than 11 million students took part in bees across the country to get to this point.

This year’s bee, at National Harbor just outside Washington, was the 88th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, which started in 1925 with only nine contestants, according to Scripps. This year’s contestants represented every state, along with some territories and foreign countries.

Marcus, who was sponsored by the Arizona Educational Foundation, is no stranger to the bee. His older brother Mitchell competed in the national bee in 2011 with Marcus, just a fourth-grader at the time, watching from the audience.

He did not however, follow exactly in his brother’s footsteps.

“He took a different approach than Mitchell,” said Sheryl Behling, now the mother of two national spelling bee contestants. “He really put a lot of time and effort into learning languages and etymologies and roots and everything.”

Before he was challenged with his first word of the day, Marcus took the microphone to give a shout-out to his older brother, who graduated as valedictorian of his high school this week.

He then slid back into the routine that marked all his rounds this week, asking for the definition of his word, its part of speech and its use in a sentence – and then calmly spelling it before sitting back down.

That word, apivorous, for bee-eating, got him through the fifth round when the number of contestants went from 48 other semifinalists to 37. He then correctly spelled vernissage – a word for a preview of an art exhibition – to be one of the 21 still standing after the sixth round.

He took his seat, just as unruffled as he had done in the previous rounds, and waited for the scores from previous rounds to be calculated.

A score of 61 was needed to make it to the top 10 who advanced to the Championship Finals. Marcus was not among them.

The 13-year-old described the outcome as “very stressful,” but said he’s “glad it paid off in the end.”

His mom said Marcus had a goal in mind and he hit that goal.

“His goal was to get to semis,” she said. “He’ll be a little disappointed to not make finals, but he’s gone through a lot in the last year and this is just amazing for him.”

It was hard-fought, said his mother, but worth it.

“This has been amazing for Marcus because he’s just dedicated so much time into studying,” she said.