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Usually, it's the first-place finish that's exciting, but at the Pasco school district spelling bee Friday the more intense contest was over third place.

Jamie Mandell, 12, of Land O'Lakes had slowly and correctly spelled "hypothetical" to place first among the middle school pupils. David Botelho, 13, of New Port Richey came in second. That left David Duff, 13, of Dade City and Randall Potter, 11, of Zephyrhills in a race for third. Back and forth they went.

Words like "existential" and "anabolic" escaped them. David eventually won, bringing wild applause. He will join Jamie and David next week to compete in the Suncoast Spelling Bee with middle school pupils from Pinellas, Citrus and Hernando counties.

The Times and Delta Zeta Sorority Alumnae sponsor the Suncoast contest. The winner goes to the National Spelling Bee, which is sponsored by Scripps Howard.

"I don't believe that I would be here among the last four (finalists) as an adult," district administrator Jim Lane told the winners. "That's why we have spell checkers."

Many tricky words were tossed out at the Pasco contest: One kid correctly spelled "Appalachian" as in the mountains. The problem was that the word called for was "appellation" as in "a name or title."

Three of the four finalists say they read avidly. (We couldn't ask David Duff, who goes to Pasco Middle, because he gave his name and age, scooped up his trophy and left.)

Jamie, a Pine View Middle pupil, said the key to spelling correctly aloud in a room full of adults and peers was to focus on picturing the word. One word she couldn't conjure was "susceptible," but the other contestants also missed their words that round, keeping alive Jamie's shot at first place.

When it came time to spell "hypothetical," she concentrated and realized she had run across the word "in a book somewhere. I just saw it in my head."

Besides the middle school competition, the district on Friday sponsored a high school spelling bee. Winners were: first place, Angela Rembiesa, Ridgewood High School; second, Rhone Fraser, Zephyrhills High School; third, Vanessa Hundley, Hudson High School; fourth, Andy Lott, Ridgewood.

That bee is not part of the national competition.